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Fair gives a hand to prosthetics
by Sarah Cooper
Jan 31, 2008 | 902 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/Debra Reid - A burning roof collapsed costing John Rogers his left hand and forearm. The former Florida firefighter, now a fire inspector, shows off his custom-painted "i-limb" at the Hanger prosthetics convention on Thursday.
Tribune/Debra Reid - A burning roof collapsed costing John Rogers his left hand and forearm. The former Florida firefighter, now a fire inspector, shows off his custom-painted "i-limb" at the Hanger prosthetics convention on Thursday.
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Mechanical arms, legs, hands, feet and everything that could cover them surrounded Sgt. John Jones of the U.S. Marine Corps and his fellow amputees at John Ascuaga's Nugget Thursday.

"It's life changing when you become an amputee," Jones said at the opening of the Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics education fair. "I didn't know if I would be able to do the things that I did before.”

On a Monday in January 2005, Jones was on his second tour of duty in Iraq. As he was combing the sand, he hit an anti-tank line that threw him 25 feet into the air. After 32 surgeries and endless hours at the hospital, Jones faced the realization that he would lose his right leg below the knee.

Now that he has joined the unfortunate ranks of veterans who are fitted with a prosthetic leg, he travels with Hanger to their education fairs. He was one of a group of amputees that Hanger flew in from around the country to help educate company employees at the convention.

"We like to incorporate patients into the learning process," Jennifer Bitner, a Hanger spokesperson, said.

The fair filled the Rose Ballroom at the Nugget with more than 300 prosthetics vendors and more than 1,000 attendees from across the country.

The amputees ranged from a 21-year-old man who lost two legs and his right arm after being hit by a freight train, to an FBI agent who lost his legs and then returned to active duty.

As a group of six amputees took the stage, vendors and prosthesists rose to their feet and gave the men a thunderous round of applause.

"It chokes me up every time," said Jim Baird, the company's director of clinical education, as the applause rolled on. "Some of these men were told by military doctors they would never walk again – and now they are running."

Sgt. 1st Class Mike McNaughton lost his leg above the knee during a tour of duty in Iraq and told himself as he lay in a hospital bed that he would run again.

President George W. Bush visited McNaughton while he was recovering.

"I told him that I wanted not to walk, but run," McNaughton said.

After 14 months of physical therapy McNaughton also had a prosthetic leg that he used to go for a run around the White House with President Bush.

Cameron Clapp is the youthful, blond-haired, blue-eyed face of the Hanger company.

"This is where it changed for me," the 21-year-old Clapp said of the Hanger fair. "They were able to take me under their wing and help me be better."

At the age of 15, Clapp was hit by a freight train, severing several limbs from his body.

After multiple hospital stays, he is now running the 200 and 400 meters in track, swimming 1.2 miles and working as a patient advocate for Hanger.

"My accident gave me opportunities and experiences that have just been so incredible," Clapp said. "Today I am thankful for my accident."

Clapp said he especially enjoys working with soldiers who have lost limbs.

"I help them get to the next level in using their prosthesis," Clapp said. "And it is truly an honor to work with them.'

Clapp made his way Thursday morning into the small group of men in dress uniform, asking for a photo.

As they prepared to take the photo, the prosthetic hook that now takes the place of his right arm wrapped around the shoulders of retired Army Staff Sgt. Roland Paquete and Clapp's face broke into an enthusiastic grin.

Paquete was in southern Afghanistan driving 50 meters off the main road when suddenly he tasted blood in his mouth. Paquete said he doesn't remember much of what happened other than what he saw of his broken legs.

"As I was crawling away from the Humvee I could see that my legs were pretty mangled," Paquete said. "I remember how I felt up until I hit the cold metal on the surgical table in Kandahar (Afghanistan)."

After that he went blank for several days, waking up in Walter Reed Medical Center. Clapp met Paquete on a visit to Walter Reed on behalf of Hanger Prosthetics. Now the pair can both be seen at Hanger education fairs sharing their experiences.

"I feel good about advocating a company that has done so much good for me," Paquete said.
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