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Chuck Patterson

Around Here, We Call Him a Superhero!

At the age of 79, Chuck Patterson went through an absolutely harrowing event, and lived to tell about it. He was out fishing in his boat and hit a sandbar. Chuck was thrown out of and under the boat. “The boat came up over me and broke two vertebrae and also mangled my left foot. I passed out and when I came to, thought I was in about 12 feet of water. I thought I was for sure going to drown. Turns out I was in shallow water, so tried to stand up, but kept falling to my left. That’s when I realized that my foot was seriously injured,” Chuck recounted. “I saw that the boat was up on the sandbar, and started crawling, praying that I wouldn’t run into deep water.”

Chuck managed to get back into the boat. Luckily, his cell phone had stayed in the boat when he went over. Just as fortunate, he had a signal, not always the case when out on the water. He immediately made two phone calls: the first to his wife Mary Ann and the second to 911. “I didn’t want Mary Ann to get a call that would scare her half to death, so called her and said not to worry, an ambulance is on the way, but looks like I cut my foot off,” he recalled. Once medical help was on the way, Chuck used his belt to make a tourniquet, so that he would not bleed to death from the severe foot injury. “It took them about 45 minutes to get to me,” he said.

Snell's: Chuck on Cross Lake
Snell’s: Chuck on Cross Lake

Later he heard that several people had run up on the same sandbar, but they were going slower so were not thrown from their boats. “I would caution people to be very careful out in lakes and rivers. The moving water can change the landscape underneath from one day to the next. I had fished there many times before and it wasn’t there. That day, it was.”

With respect to his treatment at Snell’s: “I love those people. It takes a little while to go through the process to get a prosthesis, so I got to know them all pretty well—they became like family to me. Especially Mary, we like them all, but we love her. The folks at Snell’s are so honest and forthright, you can’t help but like them.”

Chuck, a Korean War Air Force veteran, and Mary Ann have been married since 1952 and are still going strong. They have three adult sons, all of whom live nearby. They are also blessed with six grandkids and two great grandchildren, who live in Washington state, where his granddaughter’s husband is currently stationed.

Today, at age 83, he still fishes every week—from a boat. You can find him out on Cross Lake Thursdays and Friday mornings when the weather is good.

Michelle Smith



Something Wonderful

First Posted December 2010, Updated October 2012

“I had spent 26 years waiting for something wonderful to happen,” Michelle Smith
confided. Michelle, who was born with cerebral palsy, has been seriously mobility challenged all her life. “I didn’t have the life of a 26 year old, due to the CP and the limitations that brings on— for example, I couldn’t even step down a curb or get in and out of a car without help.”

Something wonderful did happen for Michelle. “(My friend Nikki was watching Good Morning America in September, 2009 and saw a story about this amazing new type of orthotics that are based on electrical stimulation of the nerve endings. When she called me to make sure I had seen the story, my first thought was that I could probably benefit from this type of braces, but that it would likely be too far to travel to get them.”

The story was about the latest development in orthotics, an advanced system designed to use mild functional electrical stimulation to lift the foot to help an individual walk more safely and easily, including up and down stairs, uneven surfaces—even curbs. The ones she was fitted with are the Bioness NESS L 300*. The NESS L 300 eliminates the need for rigid braces, in most cases, and in some cases use of the NESS L300 has resulted in a permanent improvement in condition for patients, allowing them to walk without a device at all.

“The results were astounding. I got my Bioness orthotics on September 9, 2009 and saw an improvement within 18 minutes of trying them out. [Check out the video here.] That is when my whole life began to change!” she exclaimed.

“How Do You Run, Mom?”

Michelle, with her newfound mobility asked her mother that question one day several months ago. “For the first time in my life I can step backwards, sideways, go where I want to go without having to hold onto anyone—that alone was a miracle—and now I am learning to skip, hop, run, too!” As it turns out, her best teacher for all those fun things is her 3-year-old niece, Amber. “She and I are learning together.”

Recently, Michelle, daughter of Thomas Smith, pastor of Campti United Pentecostal Church in Campti, was delivering gumbo to a parishioner, as part of a fundraiser the Church was conducting to help offset the cost of her new orthotics, and surprised both herself and her sister by walking down the porch steps by herself, which didn’t have hand rails, without even thinking about it—till her sis pointed it out to her.

Asked about her experiences with Snell’s Orthotics and Prosthetics, she reported: “In all truth, the folks at Snell’s are like family to me. I call and talk to them regularly. They have been so good to me and have gone out of their way to help me.”

Drastic Changes

“Sometimes I just want to cry tears of joy at the drastic changes. I had quit driving years ago, but continued to renew my license, now I am working on driving again, as well as searching for a job in my field of accounting. Now that I am able to do things on my own, my social life has also changed. I can go and do with my friends without having to worry about planning each step ahead of time, or refusing invitations to places that are unfamiliar. The whole world has opened up to me, and I feel like the Bioness’ are a miraculous answer to my prayers. My parents are able to go to their hunting camp without having to worry about who is going to watch over me while they are gone, which I am so thankful for. This technology not only gave me a whole new life, it also gave my parents their lives back,” she continued.
“And, lately, I have been seeing improvement even without my braces on, which makes me think that I might fall into the category of people who regain nerve function from wearing them!”

Michelle’s family, in addition to dad, Thomas and niece, Amber, includes her twin sister,
Danielle, a younger sister, Kirby and her mother, Rosemary.

According to Clint Snell, CPO and President of Snell’s Orthotics and Prosthetics: “It was
very dramatic seeing the changes that Michelle made over time. Even the day we first put the Bioness on her she was able to managed curbs and uneven ground. She was so excited and enthusiastic! Since then she has continued to make a great deal of additional progress in activities of daily living. It does seem like the Bioness has enhanced Michelle’s life and allows her to do more—getting out and about and meeting new people and friends. It is so gratifying to see changes like this in a patient’s life.”

Update — A July Wedding!

Wonderful things just keep happening for Michelle. Through mutual church friends, Michelle met Cass Arnold at a group outing on October 1, 2010. After dating for a year and 2 months they were engaged to be married on January 5, 2012, Cass, himself a twin, and Michelle were married on July 14th of this year. “We were going to get married in my dad’s church, since originally the ceremony was going to be small. But, my mom changed my mind about a small wedding, so we are going to ‘go big’. For that reason, we were married in our former church in order to have room for the crowd,” Michelle said.

And, the wedding planning didn’t stop with Michelle’s big day. “My little sister is getting
married in 2013, so Mom was working on not just one but two weddings at the same time.
During that process we had a moment of kind of re-thinking the ‘go big’ decision!” she laughed.
In the end, the wedding turned out to be the just the kind of “fairy tale” event Michelle was
dreaming of.

The spring of 2012 also saw the birth of Michelle’s second niece : “She is a miracle baby. My sister has Graves disease, so her pregnancy was extremely difficult. Thankfully, when she went into labor (a month early) she and her husband were in Shreveport that day and he rushed her to the ER where she had Addyson Leigh on Mother’s Day.”

Reflecting back on a more serious note, Michelle shared: “People don’t really realize the effects that a disabling health problem can have on your mental state. Prior to getting the Bioness braces, I couldn’t really do much on my own. That is a depressing place to be, no matter how hard you try to stay upbeat. Gaining mobility has changed so much in my life—it has freed me to reach my full potential, and in turn, given me more opportunity to help others, as well.”

Regaining her smile, she reports that: “Since I did the commercials about my experience with Snell’s, everywhere I go, people stop me to tell me they have seen me on tv! My facebook lights up with messages every time it airs, too.”

She is taking a break for the summer from school and will finish her bachelor’s degree this year. “I do so much now that were impossible before, and I am so grateful every day,” she concluded.

Brain Saybe

Brian Saybe, 55, has been an architect for the Veteran’s Administration Medical Center in Alexandria, Louisiana for 19 years-and shared his designs with the private sector for a number of years prior to that.

Saybe contracted polio when he was just three months old. The disease left him with paralysis in one leg, and he began wearing a KAFO (knee-ankle-foot orthosis) to provide support for that leg when he was 3 years old.

His first pediatric brace was fitted by Snell’s 52 years ago, and as he has grown and matured, Saybe has seen orthotic technology and techniques grow and progress, too.

“When I was a small child, the braces were very much different-mostly heavier steel. Over the years they have developed some metals and plastics that are just as strong, but much lighter.”

Saybe describes himself modestly as “Fairly mobile,” but then adds with confidence: “I do most anything I want to do. Around job sites, I’m not as adventurous as I was a few years back,” he smiles, “but if I need to get anywhere, I can get there.”

In his leisure hours, he swims frequently for exercise, and includes his wife and two daughters in his fishing and hunting expeditions. “Only one of my daughters likes to hunt, but they both enjoy fishing, so we often visit our camp in LaSalle Parish.”

Of his life and limitations, Saybe says, “I’ve always felt that I’ve been gifted in what I’ve been able to do. My handicap never stopped me. It might have made me take detours, but if there was something I wanted to do, I always found a way. The neighborhood kids all played ball together, and they just accommodated my needs. In baseball, I would hit the ball, but the fellow standing next to me would do the base running for me.

“I was very lucky-I was mobile enough to do things, and I was always surrounded by family and friends that never wanted to exclude me, and never felt it was necessary. We always made accommodations that let me do what I wanted to do.”

He recalls a story his mother used to tell: “I went to a Catholic school, and once, when I was in the second or third grade, my mother got a call from a frantic nun who told her that I had climbed to the top of the monkey bars-and she was concerned that I was in trouble.

“My mother just said calmly, ‘Well, if he climbed up there, he can climb down, so don’t worry about it!'”

Saybe thrived, in part due to his mother’s great attitude: “She used to talk about the doctor we visited who said that I would never walk. She dumped him in a hurry and went with one who offered a little more optimistic prediction!”

Snell’s has been designing and fabricating his KAFOs for more than half a century, and of the role they have played in a lifelong relationship, Saybe says simply, “Basically, they have made me mobile. Once I got into a brace, I’ve been able to be mobile and do everything I wanted to do.”

James Nix

James Nix, 58, was an employee of the power company 28 years ago, when he encountered some high voltage that left him with serious burns and internal damage, and resulted in the amputation of parts of both of his arms.

After more than 4 months in the hospital, Nix spent most of the next year “in and out of the hospital, having surgeries…”

…a total of more than 30 surgeries, he believes.

While his left arm continued to heal, he was fitted with a prosthetic right arm. The conventional body-powered design allows him to grip, lift, carry, and manipulate objects.

Nix began visiting Snell’s in 1979, shortly after receiving the arm, when it needed some repairs and adjustments. He traveled to the Duke University Medical Center to have a left arm prosthesis fitted, and received extensive training and practice in working with both arms.

“I could have either gone to Duke or to Northwestern in Chicago; I chose Durham because a man who had burns similar to mine had just gone through Duke Rehab, and had good success,” recalls Nix.

“When I came home and needed work on my arms, I went back to Mr. Snell, because I was satisfied with their service and work.”

When Nix needed his next set of arms, Snell’s made them for him, and they have been replacing and updating his prostheses for the last 25 years since then.

Nix usually requires a new set of upper-limb prostheses every two years or so, and maintains a second set as “spares.”

“I wear one set every day and I call the second set my Sunday set. I wear them if I want to go out to eat, or to church or somewhere special. They perform just the same, but one set-the newer ones-look nicer, without so much wear and tear on them as the everyday set,” he explains.

If he encounters a problem with one set, he can wear the others until repairs can be made. “My wife can do some repairs on them, but for any major adjustments, I take them back to Snell’s.”

“I’m very satisfied with the service that I have received from Snell’s over these many years,” says Nix. “The people that work on my arms-Russell and Derrick-do very good work.”

He continues to keep himself active and capable. “I can basically do just about anything with these arms,” he claims. “They had to adapt my truck, but now I can drive it with ease. I do chores around the house because my wife works, and I help her out any way that I can.”

That includes laundry and managing the dishwasher, among other tasks. And, since Nix enjoys being outdoors, he also does the yard work, using a lawnmower that has a driving bar to make steering more comfortable for him.

He enjoys spending leisure time with his two daughters and especially his five grandchildren, playing with them and babysitting like other fond grandparents the world over.

To others facing a limb-loss situation similar to his own, Nix offers advice: “Basically, do what you think you can do, and don’t take no for an answer. When somebody tells you that you can’t do something, prove them wrong! I have had physical therapists and occupational therapists tell me that I wasn’t going to be able to do certain things-and I’ve just gone ahead and done it.

“For one thing, they told me I wouldn’t be able to wear blue jeans-but they hadn’t heard of Velcro! I have Velcro on all my clothes.”

It might take a little creative problem-solving, he admits, and sometimes it takes a little longer for him to perform a simple chore than someone with a natural hand and arm, but it can be done.

“It all just depends on you and your positive attitude about things. Just prove them wrong.”

Among Nix’s abilities is the gift of generously helping others.

“Anything I can do to help somebody, I will try. I have gone to visit with other Snell’s patients who are in a similar situation to mine; I try to help them to keep a positive attitude. It’s hard going through something like this-on you and your family.

“I don’t mind doing it,” says Nix with quiet strength. “If it helps somebody, I’m glad to do it. I just want to say that I don’t think I would be here today if it was not for the prayers of my church.”

Susan Ballard

Susan Ballard, 44, wears a KAFO (knee-ankle-foot-orthosis) to support her foot drop and right-side weakness that appeared as the result of an automobile accident in 1990.

It’s only one of a number of troublesome complications that also resulted from the accident but she lets none of them slow her down significantly.

Although prior to the accident, Ballard was healthy, athletic, with no hint of a problem, the head injury that she sustained also activated symptoms of multiple sclerosis, which were only identified after more than a year of doctor visits and testing.

Her seat belt lock had failed, allowing damage to her knee, as well.

Ballard’s variety of M.S. is called relapsing-remitting. “Each time that I have a flare-up, I lose a little bit of the strength in leg. The quad muscles on my right side are atrophying. I also have a lot of eye problems with it,” she adds matter-of-factly. “The eyes sort of jump around, and I have had two eye surgeries for that.”

After the accident, Ballard was fitted for an ankle foot orthosis. Following her knee surgery, she began also wearing a knee brace.

The series of braces she has worn ever since have been helpful in preventing more falls like the one that broke her wrist, and the thumb on her other hand.

“The braces (one regular hinge and one pneumatic hinge) help give support to my hip,” she explains. “My gait was altered and I was having problems, not swinging through properly. I had to go through gait training. The braces help to stabilize my knee. It’s a prototype that was featured in a story about me a couple of years ago, that appeared in a national orthotics magazine.”

“The KAFO has made a great difference in her ability to stay mobile,” she adds. “My orthopedist and Snell’s have been very good about keeping me in the brace, and keeping it repaired. I wear it down, wear it out, Velcro comes off, and screws come out but I get to use it. I get tired. I experience fatigue and other side-effects of M.S., but it has helped me be able to walk better. I climbed Stone Mountain in Georgia with the aid of my brace. I climbed up it twice, in 1998 and 2001. Randy, at Snells, said I ought to climb DOWN it, now! I tried to come down both times, but I didnt make it. That’s the next goal!”

Although Ballard was recently diagnosed with leukemia, and her anemia adds to the fatigue that is already associated with her M.S. symptoms, she sets a demanding pace for herself as a dedicated volunteer.

The love of her life in addition to her wonderfully supportive husband and 15-year-old daughter is serving as Scout Leader for “her girls”.

For ten years she has camped, hiked, and guided her group of high school-aged girl scouts through an impressive list of community service projects for the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army, and others.

She and the scouts have also served at Buddy Camp, where children with disabilities are paired with typically developing peer children as partners or buddies.

“I’ve been a Buddy Parent the past few years, and my girl scouts have been counselors. The girls are great,” she says proudly. “When we go on a trip, they push me in the wheelchair, carry all the stuff, and take care of my backpack and luggage. They’re a wonderful group.”

These educational (and entertaining) trips have taken Ballard and her girls as far as Disney World, Savannah, San Antonio, and this year, New York City.

When she’s not volunteering and mentoring, Ballard is busy bicycling and riding horses in what remains of her free time.

Fatigue aside, Ballard appears to lead the life of a dedicated dynamo, and her words of inspiration are heartfelt:

“Dont give up, because Snell’s will keep you going! They really will. Poor Randy! I’ve put him through so much. I’ve gone through water and everything else with that brace, and he is just wonderful and encouraging and very supportive.

“I was playing basketball last year with my girl scouts, and a screw popped out. I wasn’t even playing defense,” she insists plaintively, “I was just going to shoot it!” Serious again, Ballard continues: “My orthopedist and Randy worked together to design a brace for me and they have both been very good about keeping me able to walk. So, I’d tell others in a similar situation not to give up.”

(If they follow Ballard’s example, they’ll be too busy to give up!)