Tim Speldrich knows what it’s like to live within his limits — he’s had to do it for most of his life.
An avid outdoorsman, Speldrich lost his right foot in a three-wheeler accident when he was just 15 years old. Complications from the injury would eventually take the rest of his lower leg and ultimately result in an above the knee amputation.
“They just couldn’t save it,” Speldrich explained.
What could have been a tragic and debilitating accident has done anything but stop Speldrich from living life to the fullest.
Since his accident in 1985, Speldrich has undergone a dozen reconstructive surgeries, endured countless hours of physical therapy and as technology has changed, Speldrich has been fitted for more than 20 prosthetic legs. “They wear out pretty quickly,” Speldrich said.
In his nearly 30 years as an amputee, Speldrich has had a front row seat to the changing technology of prosthetic devices. His first leg in 1985 was attached to his body with a belt system that limited Speldrich’s mobility and caused a great deal of discomfort.
“They are a lot more comfortable now,” Speldrich said.
American Board Certified Prosthetist Chip Taylor practices at Prosthetic Laboratories in Baxter and works with Speldrich each time he has a prosthesis replaced to evaluate and properly fit the device. Taylor explained that young amputees outgrow components of their prosthetic limbs and eventually the prosthesis simply wears out — much like shoes. “Plus,” Taylor added, “Tim is a lot more active than a lot of patients.”
Last summer, Speldrich got the chance of a lifetime to upgrade his prosthetic device to one that would give him more ability than ever to live beyond the limits of his amputation.
“He has the most advanced prosthesis available,” Taylor said. “It won’t replace a healthy body part, but it’s pretty close.”
Speldrich said his new leg has been life changing. With previous devices, Speldrich has suffered falls due to issues with stability in the device. Simple tasks like walking on grass made him apprehensive of a fall and use of previous devices has wreaked havoc on the other side of Speldrich’s body. He has had two surgeries to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.
Speldrich said his new leg, made by the German company Otto Bock, is built with automated sensors that react to Speldrich’s motion and can be locked into various positions depending on the activity involved.
“The patient doesn’t have to think as much if the knee is underneath them,” Taylor explained.
To put it simply — “You can trust the leg a lot more,” Speldrich added. “It catches you every time.”
Speldrich is one of the first in Minnesota to be approved for the device — one that comes with a hefty price tag. The leg costs about $95,000.
Speldrich said insurance covers the device, but requires a great deal of explanation and documentation before it will be approved.
It took six months for Speldrich’s device to be approved. Speldrich credits Taylor and the support of his primary care provider, Dr. Kristina Schmidt of Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Baxter Clinic with the approval. Taylor and Schmidt wrote numerous letters on Speldrich’s behalf. “These devices used to be a prescription,” Schmidt explained. “They need a lot of documentation.”
Schmidt said, for Speldrich, the prosthesis was necessary because not having a reliable device was affecting his ability to maintain a healthy weight. “If they can’t wear the leg, they can’t use it,” Schmidt explained. “It’s a life altering situation.”
While Schmidt serves as a primary care physician, she has taken a special interest in amputee patients like Speldrich. After being approached by the clinic’s physical therapy department just over a year ago, Schmidt made the decision to set up a clinic for amputees. “Patients need a place to go for help,” she said.
While Schmidt never intended to specialize in working with amputees, it has become a natural fit for her and she said with her medical training it becomes intuitive.
Schmidt has served approximately 35 amputees in the Brainerd lakes area.
Schmidt said she is a big advocate for devices like Speldrich’s that provide unprecedented technology. “It enables people instead of disabling them,” she said.
Speldrich said he appreciates that Schmidt blocks out time in her clinic schedule specifically for amputee patients. Prior to Schmidt, Speldrich said seeing a local doctor who specializes in amputee patients wasn’t an option.
Schmidt said she has made it her goal to help advocate for amputees and help them find access to the resources available to them. “I really enjoy it,” Schmidt said. “It’s rewarding for me to see them do so well.”
“That’s the key thing,” Speldrich said. “She cares.”
Speldrich said he feels like he has no limits with his new leg. It affords him the ability to maintain physical activity without the fear that his leg won’t be able to keep up. He said one of the things that has impressed him most about the device is its reaction time to unstable ground and ability to keep him upright.
“I don’t look down anymore — I can look up and see everything around me,” Speldrich said.
In the past, Speldrich has had multiple devices depending on the activities he takes on. His new device has six modes it locks into as needed. “I never change it out anymore,” he said.
Speldrich listed walking, hiking, hunting, biking, riding his motorcycle and even playing basketball as some the activities he takes to task.
“It works really good for that kind of stuff,” he said. “I’m able to walk a lot farther, stand a lot longer — you just feel so much more secure.”
Speldrich’s wife, Mindy said Speldrich’s device has provided her husband with a confidence he’s never had before. “He’s proud of it,” she said.
The Speldrichs, who have been married for 20 years, dated three months before Mindy learned Tim was an amputee. “He used to hide it,” she said. “Now it’s just part of who he is.
Mindy said her husband’s prosthesis has in some ways helped her whole family. The couple have two children — Dylan, 15 and Makiao, 10.
Speldrich said he enjoys shooting hoops with his kids and was able to go biking with his family for the first time ever last summer.
“Overall it’s been a huge improvement,” Mindy said.
SARAH NELSON KATZENBERGER may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5879.