Camp No Limits Helps to Empower Children Living with Limb Loss

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By Mary Leighton, OTR/L, and Sarah Thomas, CPO
Leighton

Leighton

Thomas

Thomas

Many children, at one time or another, experience feeling self-conscious about the way they look-that their freckles, weight, or other perceived flaws are on display. For children with limb loss, this sense of body difference can be even more acute. A child with limb loss or limb difference seldom encounters other children who are also missing limbs.

Sadly, there are few places that can offer children with limb loss and their families the opportunity to feel normal and to forget about their missing limbs. For these children and their families, going to a camp with others who are living with limb loss can be a life-altering experience. Camp No Limits is an excellent example.

Camp gives families the opportunity to find hope and understanding through shared experience. Camp provides the chance to enjoy quality time with friends and family without the intrusion of technology, learn new skills, enjoy the outdoors, make new friends, and be part of a team. A camp that includes physical and occupational therapy life-skill sessions, with prosthetists there to make adaptations as needed and adult amputees to demonstrate their abilities, can foster growth for children with limb loss and help them develop skills for successful independent living. At camp, siblings have the opportunity to express concerns they may have about their family's focus on their brother's or sister's prosthesis or limb loss or having to sit through their sibling's many medical appointments. They can talk together about how they defend their siblings from negative peer comments. Parents can ask other parents about what type of prosthetic devices their child uses, which lotions work best, or how to make simple adaptations for everyday activities. Campers can leave their prostheses on the beach with all the other prostheses without anyone caring or even noticing. They can leave camp reflecting back on spending time at a place where they can say they belonged, and were not alone. Campers often share that the experience empowers them with the confidence to go back to their everyday lives and simply be themselves.

Jack Wallace is one such camper. In 2008, Wallace was in a boating accident that resulted in a transfemoral amputation of his right leg. He was ten years old at the time. He attended his first Camp No Limits with his family the following summer. Wallace says he was inspired by the other children at camp to work harder and realized that his limb loss was not a limitation. "By spending time with all of the other campers who had overcome their disabilities, I stopped noticing their disabilities and mine as well," he says. At 15 years old, he is now a competitive skier, sled-hockey player, and lacrosse goalie. Camp No Limits helped Wallace and his family to stop focusing on his limitations and instead focus on all the possibilities that were available to him.

As Wallace's story illustrates, peer pressure doesn't have to be negative, and amputee camps are a great example of the power of positive peer interaction. Veteran campers encourage new campers to master skills with and without their prostheses. Seeing powerful, up-close examples of adaptation to prostheses and activities inspires children who are struggling with body image to embrace their differences and to be the best they can be.

Mary Leighton, OTR/L, is the executive director of Camp No Limits. She earned her bachelor's degree in occupational therapy from American International College, Springfield, Massachusetts, and is currently pursuing a master's degree in non-profit leadership and management. Sarah Thomas, CPO, is the vice president of Bio-Medic Appliances, Essex Junction, Vermont. She received her bachelor's degree in science from Villanova University, Pennsylvania, and her O&P certificates from The Newington Certificate Program in Orthotics & Prosthetics, Connecticut.