Amputated Souls

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They talked about swimming until she passed out. Five years earlier, Stickney had dreams of becoming an Olympian.

Amputated Souls

At 15, she ranked in the top 20 nationally in the mile, a freestyle event, and was a rising star out of Bedford, N. But by the time she was wheeled into surgery last May, her Olympic dream had long since vanished. A relatively minor foot injury in had dragged her down a rabbit hole of five surgeries, numerous examinations and untold theories, none of which relieved — or even explained — the constant, excruciating pain that left her unable to walk by day and then, cruelly, stabbed her awake at night.

The only solutions offered by too many shrugging doctors were the prescription painkillers that, Stickney and her family knew, were turning a once cheerful teenager into a dreary, opioid-dependent year-old pushing herself around her college campus on a kneeling scooter.

Not long after that, she made the agonizing, irreversible choice to have her lower left leg removed. I want to have a family one day. I want to be able to do things with my life. This was the only solution anyone was giving me.

The amputation procedure that Carty performs is designed to enhance the vitality and the possibilities for the portion of the limb that remains. Those possibilities include the potential of one day connecting the lower leg muscles to a futuristic robotic prosthesis currently in development across the Charles River at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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The developers of the prosthetic hope it will operate much like a natural ankle and foot. The operation is not yet perfect — Stickney will require at least one more surgical procedure — but it could forever change how amputations are performed. By December, she had won the and meter freestyle races at the U. Paralympics national championships in Arizona. Nathan Manley, the coach of the resident program of the U. Paralympic team in Colorado Springs, where Stickney trains, said she was a serious contender to make the American team for the Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

When Stickney was a healthy year-old in , and suddenly ranked among the best swimmers her age in the country, she saw a different future for herself.


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But a few months later, while jumping next to the starting blocks before a race, she broke a sesamoid, one of two jellybean-size bones under her left big toe. Ordered to wear a boot, she was told that in eight weeks all would be well. It never was.

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Four surgeries followed, plus the seemingly endless prescriptions for painkillers and anti-inflammatories: Oxycodone. Stickney continued to swim for her club team, and she even earned a scholarship at Biola University, a private Christian college about 20 miles southeast of Los Angeles. But within a month of her arrival there in , the pain grew more intense.

Another surgery revealed she had shattered the other sesamoid bone in the same foot, and it was removed in a rare — and perhaps ill-conceived, her family now believes — procedure. The Stickneys lauded the care that Morgan had received from some of her physicians, but also described what they now view as incompetence from others. After yet another summer spent recuperating from surgery in her room in New Hampshire, Stickney hobbled back to Biola and resumed her studies, powering through her classes in an opioid-induced haze.

There were times I took so many pills and I was scared that I had overdosed. In the fall of , a staph infection related to one of the surgical procedures surfaced in her ailing foot, and her temperature spiked to degrees.

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