Oscar Pistorius was born on November 22, 1986, in South Africa. But he wasn't born the perfectly formed, healthy baby we all hope for. He was born with fibular hemimelia, a congenital disorder in which there is a complete or partial absence of the fibula. Sometimes, with fibular hemimelia, other deformities are also present in the ankle and foot, as well as in the femur, knee, and tibia. Pistorius' fibular hemimelia led to a double-amputation of his legs below the knee when he was still an infant, partial amputation being a standard treatment for the disorder.
Pistorius' parents were advised to have the amputations done before he learned to walk, which would make it easier for him to adapt to the change and make it more likely for him to be mobile in the future. Pistorius not only learned to live with his disability, as he grew up, he excelled, becoming a determined athlete and competitor. At the age of 26, he has already become a world champion sprinter and made history. In August 2012, he represented South Africa in the London Olympic games, becoming the first double amputee to compete in track and field.
"I've been very blessed in my life. I've got a lot a to be grateful for," Pistorius said during a press conference. "I've never focused on the disabilities in life, but on the abilities."
Pistorius wears prosthetic legs. He received his first pair soon after his amputations, which allowed him to grow up competing in sports. Now those prosthetics are high-tech carbon-fiber blades, hence the nickname "Blade Runner." Pistorius' success with prosthetics gives hope and encouragement to many who use prosthetic limbs or will have to in the future and to those who suffer from other foot and ankle disorders.
One of the most common diseases we see in our office that leads to amputations is diabetes, and with diabetes being a growing problem in the United States, it is something we see on a regular basis. Our main goal with diabetes is to prevent amputation, and there are many new techniques available to save feet and legs, but when amputation becomes a necessity, it is good for patients to know that with prosthetics available and with the advances in prosthetics, it is still possible to lead a normal life.
Pistorius has obviously done well with his prosthetics and with his recovery from his amputations at an early age, but there is another treatment option besides amputation for fibular hemimelia patients. That option is limb lengthening. Reconstruction techniques or limb lengthening can sometimes be used to replace missing bone and lengthen or straightened segments of deformed bones.
If your child suffers from fibular hemimelia, it may be difficult to decide which treatment option to go with, and you may need to see a foot and ankle specialist to help you with that decision. There is some controversy about which treatment option is best and which treatment the patients best respond to. The decision usually is based on the severity of the fibular hemimelia and whether or not the foot is functional. If it is less severe, limb lengthening may be possible.
However, if amputation is recommended, you can choose that option with the knowledge that your child will still have the chance to lead a fulfilling, successful life, just as Oscar Pistorius has shown us. He fought for a chance to compete in the London Olympics, and he won, maybe not the race, but the real battle to prove that he is on equal ground with non-disabled athletes and can compete with them with no advantages due to his prosthetic legs.
After the prosthetic blades he uses were banned in 2008 from use in able-bodied competition because of fears that people using prosthetics may have an unfair advantage over other competitors, Pistorius fought for four months to have that overturned and won, making him eligible to compete in the Olympic games.
Pistorius' outlook on life and his determination in competition are inspiring to say the least.
"I think there's a lot of people that … if something doesn't go their way in life, then they focus on how they have been short-changed or how they have been done wrong," Pistorius said. "But we've got so much to be grateful for, I think I'd prefer to focus on that."