ACA’s Roots

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By Al Pike, CP

Next year the Amputee Coalition of America (ACA) will be celebrating 15 years as the national organization for amputees in the United States, but it was not the first.

Fifty years earlier (1939), Paul J. Campbell, St. Louis, Missouri, established the Fraternity of the Wooden Leg. This national amputee organization continued well into the mid-1960s, publishing Courage magazine, which over the years was distributed to amputees in veteran's hospitals and reached civilian amputees through prosthetic facilities.

Courage magazine, a 5x7 two-color publication, included success stories of amputees and welcomed new amputees into the Fraternity. Besides stories and pictures of amputees, it contained amputee-related cartoons, plus advertising for cars with automatic transmissions, aids for amputees, and limb shops.

Peer counseling was through what the Fraternity called "Greeters." Greeters were fellow amputees who, upon hearing about a new amputee in their community, would pay a visit and welcome them into the Fraternity of the Wooden Leg.

Miss Augusta B. Weaver of Sapulpa, Oklahoma, continued the organization and its magazine until her death in the mid-1960s. Twenty years later Courage magazine was again published, this time under the direction of Sheri Coin Marshall, but by then the ACA was in its embryonic state.

For generations we have had regional amputee support groups that operated independently from each other. One such group was the Conquers founded in 1940 by Louis Sabella of Chicago. This organization still continues today with a new name: Amputees Services Association. For many years the organization held its meetings at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where hundreds of individuals have been trained to be prosthetists. The Conquers had an affiliation with the Arthur Murray Dance Studios, and many amputees leaned to dance, which hopefully carried over into the day-to-day use of their prostheses.

Requests for information about prosthetics from a growing number of these regional amputee support groups came to the attention of the officers and directors of the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists (AAOP) in the 1980s. Since the focus of the Academy was education, the officers of the Academy decided to invite the leadership of these regional amputee support groups to the Academy's annual meetings. In 1988 Mary P. Novotny, MS, RN, who headed her own support group in Chicago, Families & Amputees In Motion (FAIM), was appointed liaison to the Academy. She coordinated the regional amputee support groups' programs held in conjunction with the Academy's annual meeting. The amputee support group leaders developed the concept for a national amputee coalition. In 1989 the Amputee Coalition of America was officially founded under the leadership of a professional association executive who was a non-amputee. It was only later, under the leadership of Mary Novotny, that the ACA grew into the organization that we know today.

Since that time the ACA has gone in a number of different directions, and only time will tell if it has the same staying power as the Fraternity of the Wooden Leg.

Al Pike, CP, is a past president (1988-1989) of the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists (AAOP). He can be contacted via e-mail at AlPikeCP@aol.com