April is National Limb Loss and Limb Difference Awareness Month, and one Alabama amputee is ready to take a leap of faith.
Michael Anthony Estrada lost his leg in college at the University of North Carolina.
“I was working in Chapel Hill at a restaurant bar when a man recently released from prison walked in to rob the place,” Estrada said. “He had an automatic Beretta and opened fire, shattering my leg, sending bone and bullet fragments through the muscles. The bullets damaged the main vessel going down my leg. I was playing sports in college one day, got shot, died on the operating table, and woke up the next day without a leg.”
Estrada admitted it is easy to feel sorry for yourself when trauma hits, but he never allowed himself to go down that path.
“The first night I got my prosthetic leg, I went to a fraternity annual dance event,” said Estrada. “My girlfriend and I had shagged in dance contests. I heard the beach music and felt the urge. When I got on the dance floor, I knew at that moment that I was going to be just fine. We shagged all night.”
The Hoover resident is now preparing for a trip to Georgia to be part of an event for amputees at Georgia Tech. The event will be put on by the Challenged Athletes Foundation, and it’s there he will learn to run again.
“I’m 65 years old now, and I lost my leg at 20, so 45 years is a long time to wait, and I could not be more excited,” said Estrada. “I have grandkids now, and it occurred to me, I want to be able to chase them around in the yard and play soccer with them.”
According to Amputee Coalition, 185,000 people have an amputation each year in the U.S. That is about 300 to 500 per day.
“And think about this,” Estrada said. “Alabama is located in the diabetes belt where the highest number of amputations happen. Eighty-five percent of lower-body amputations start with an ulcer on the foot. Ulcers can happen for reasons [from] diabetes to neuropathy. This is a topic Alabama needs to care about.”
Estrada said he wishes there was more awareness and education back in those days for amputees.
“There was no Amputee Coalition,” Estrada said. “There was no month dedicated to those of us who lost limbs. No one talked about it. I felt like I was in the dark. No social media to research. It was an entire decade before I even met another amputee. It was a guy who lost his arm, and he went to the same gym as I did. I remember him taking off his arm in the sauna and putting a towel around it.”
Estrada said he is thankful there are now more programs and activities for amputees. He even knows a trainer at the YMCA that is dedicated to helping amputees.
Mary Allison Cook, the associate director of communications for the Lakeshore Foundation, agreed with Estrada that we have made progress but emphasized we still have so far to go towards inclusion, which is another reason National Limb Loss and Limb Difference Awareness month is so important.
"The goal of awareness months is for people to feel seen and feel visible,” said Cook. “People with disabilities are excluded from many things in everyday life, so April should serve as a reminder that whether you use a wheelchair or have limb loss, you are still valuable and should be included.”
Cook said Lakeshore Foundation works on inclusion, advocacy, awareness, and education every day.
“Lakeshore Foundation is both a local and national organization,” Cook said. “We provide opportunities for kids and adults with physical disabilities to be active and healthy through adapted sports and recreation, fitness and aquatics.
Beyond having these conversations each April, Cook said she hopes people will think about the year-round barriers for disabled men and women.
“One, there are environmental barriers still in 2022, meaning there is a lack of accessibility at many places for people with disabilities,” said Cook. “Two, there are attitudinal barriers, meaning our society does not fully understand the lived experience of disabled people. And three, policy barriers exist, meaning decisions are made without including and considering people with disabilities.”
Estrada said he hopes any recent amputees in Alabama realize there is now the Amputee Coalition, the largest non-profit in the world for amputees. And within that organization, you can set up a peer-to-peer visit, where an amputee can sit down with another amputee and talk them through any fears or concerns.
“When you are laying in your hospital bed at night alone - so many thoughts go through your mind,” said Estrada. “How does a limb attach, how will it feel, will people make fun, will people accept me?”
And that’s why Estrada has always made it part of his mission in life to educate others. He said he is based in Hoover if any amputee wants to chat. And he certainly has experience in this arena, having served on the Governor’s Council of Fitness and Sports, the Lakeshore Advisory Board, the YMCA Board of Directors, and he served as Chairman of the Board-elect Amputee Coalition.
“I would want a new amputee to know there are so many tools for them,” said Estrada. “You can still live to your fullest potential without two legs or two arms. I am proof. The mindset needs to shift from, ‘I can’t do this,’ to, ‘how can I do this?”
Estrada said he has enjoyed snow skiing, water skiing, cycling, surfing and rock climbing.
“There are no limitations unless you put them on yourself,” he said. “Think about this, all humans are broken and missing parts, figuratively speaking. For some people, it’s just the missing legs or arms we see. You know, for years I would only wear pants. But now I wear shorts, and I am proud of my body’s accomplishments. I can’t wait till I teach it to run again next week.”
As for Cook, she is not just a Lakeshore Foundation employee, she is also a member with a long history of competing in adapted and Para sports.
“We live in a diverse world - I want people to recognize our differences make us stronger as a whole,” she said. “If we start to remove barriers so we can all participate, we leave the world a better place.”
If you would like to learn more about Lakeshore Foundation, visit lakeshore.org.
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