ACA Annual Conference Exceeds Attendance Projections

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By Karen Henry

"I am here to motivate and inspire you."- Al Mead

Motivation and inspiration are the hallmarks of the Amputee Coalition of America (ACA) Annual Conference, and this year was no exception. More than 800 people-first-timers and seasoned ACA Conference attendees alike-gathered June 15-17 at the Renaissance Waverly Hotel, Atlanta, Georgia, for three days of consumer education, networking, and peer support.

It's All about Attitude

Al Mead speaks at the opening ceremony. Photographs courtesy of the ACA.
Al Mead speaks at the opening ceremony. Photographs courtesy of the ACA.

After fracturing his foot while playing on a school playground at the age of nine, Al Mead developed an infection that resulted in the amputation of his left leg above the knee. "My attitude had a lot to do with how I have handled my amputation," Mead said during his keynote address at the opening ceremony. His accomplishments exemplify his attitude. In addition to setting world records in the 100m, 200m, and 400m at his first National Handicapped Sports competition, Mead won a gold medal and set a world record in the long jump at the 1988 Seoul, South Korea, Paralympic Games and a silver medal at the 1992 Paralympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. He encouraged conference attendees to remove "can't" from their vocabulary. "Without the right attitude, you can never reach your full potential," he said. To illustrate his point, he pulled a crisp, new $100 bill out of his pocket, crumpled it in his hand, threw it on the ground, and stomped on it. He then picked it up and asked the audience if anyone wanted it. Looking out at the room filled with people whose hands were raised, he asked, "Has this lost its value? You have not lost your value, either."

Focus on Ability

Robert Gailey, PhD, PT, provides encouragement during the mobility clinic.
Robert Gailey, PhD, PT, provides encouragement during the mobility clinic.

Conference sessions focused on resources, awareness, education, and mobility for people with limb loss or limb difference and their families, caregivers, and healthcare providers. New to this year's conference were Aging Successfully with Limb Loss, and Swimming for Fun and Fitness. Moderated by members of ACA's Medical Advisory Committee (MAC), both sessions were extremely successful. The swimming session proved so popular, conference organizers added an extra session. The Amputee Mobility and Performance Clinic was standing-room only, as Robert Gailey, PhD, PT, helped participants of all ability levels improve their gait and movement.

Attendees also had the opportunity to learn about new and innovative products, services, and support resources in the exhibit hall, which featured 53 companies and organizations.

Pushing Parity to the National Stage

Paddy Rossbach, RN, CEO of the ACA, encouraged all conference attendees to become ambassadors for the ACA, adding that the ACA's goal is to make sure that everyone who needs a prosthesis be able to get one. She cited the success of the Action Plan for People with Limb Loss (APPLL) initiative, which is now working in 25 states to advance parity legislation. Rossbach said that the ACA is now going after a federal initiative, and that they have met with Sen. Arlen Spector (R-PA) several times to discuss the effort. "This is something that everyone says is impossible," Rossbach said. "Of course, they said it was impossible to pass bills state by state. We must try."

Raising Diabetes Awareness

A focus of this year's conference was on raising diabetes awareness. Darlene Cane, chair of the American Diabetes Association (ADA), spoke at the opening ceremony about the importance of the ADA, ACA, and family physicians to work more closely with each other to help prevent and cure diabetes, as well as "make better the lives of people affected by diabetes." Cane added, "Diabetes is serious. The ACA understands the seriousness of diabetes."

To underscore the importance of educating the public about the seriousness of diabetes and complications associated with the disease, the ACA announced the launch of a new magazine: SideStep- A Guide to Preventing and Managing Diabetes and Its Complications. "We hope it's going to be in every doctor's office," Rossbach said.

The 2008 ACA Annual Conference will be held June 19-23, at the Renaissance Waverly Hotel, Atlanta, Georgia.

-Karen Henry