From Kosovo to Parris Island: Marine James Cook’s Journey Through Limb Loss

prosthetic leg

Some Americans may not remember the war in Kosovo, a contested territory in the Balkans in Europe. James Cook remembers, because in 1999, he was there - and it changed his life forever.

James was a Marine, a part of an infantry unit deployed to support the broader American-led peacekeeping effort that sought to maintain a fragile peace after a peace plan was signed in summer of that year.

During his first week in the country, he was taking point on a foot patrol through the rugged Kosovo wilderness. A friend of his warned James to be careful as they walked through thick brush and trees. “I turned around and said ‘I got it’,” James said - before walking off a cliff and falling 15 feet straight down.

James landed hard and injured both of his ankles. He wrapped them up and they continued on, but that injury would prove to be a life-changing one. Over the next six years of service as a Marine, James would encounter more injuries to the same area - a twisted ankle here, a sprained ankle there.

At one point, James transferred to Parris Island, the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot in South Carolina, to be a primary marksman instructor. The long hours - he spent 15 to 18 hours a day on his feet - took a toll on his already-injured ankles. “My ankles just broke down over time,” he said.

One day, James woke up, took a step, and fell - he couldn’t put any weight on his left ankle. He had surgery in 2004 on that ankle that led to an honorable discharge. As a result of the surgery, he started putting most of his weight on his right ankle when he walked - which caused further deterioration on his right leg. The pain just got worse and worse, leading to a fusion surgery in November, 2015.

It didn’t help. In August 2016, on James’s birthday, he had his right leg amputated. There was nothing else that could be done.

The road to recovery wasn’t an easy one. James endured several infections, which led to multiple surgeries. He wasn’t able to get his first prosthesis until February 2017, courtesy of BioTech. Fortunately, he was able to adapt quickly.

“I think I just picked it up right away,” he said. “But the first three days, I didn’t want to use it. I thought, ‘This is crap.’ But it’s a new lifestyle. It’s been a process, but I’ve adapted pretty well to it.”

He added, “A lot of people ask me if I’m doing alright, and honestly, I’m doing fine. The leg is a part of my life now.”

James is still healing and his residual limb is still settling in. But once it does, and once he receives his final prosthetic device, he’ll be back to doing everything he could do before - except running (“But I was never good at running,” James said with a laugh).

One challenge James has had to overcome is riding a motorcycle. He loves his 2017 Harley Lowrider, but it was difficult to adjust to riding it with a prosthesis.

“You have to be a little more mindful of when you’re coming to a stop, of how you’re going to put your leg down. You just have to be a little more careful. You can accidentally hit your rear brake and not know. I’ve done that a few times.”

As far as his relationship with BioTech is concerned, James couldn’t be happier. “I’ve worked with BioTech the whole time and they’ve been really great accommodating me. I have a great relationship with them and they know me.”

He added, “This is my life now and BioTech is my family. They’re my leg mechanics.”

Contact BioTech today for more information on services, staff, and educational resources.

An April 2011 Tornado Survivor: Raymond Watson’s Story

artificial leg

On April 27, 2011, around 4:43 pm, a menacing storm cloud turned deadly as a funnel descended upon the ground. It was a member of the 2011 Super Outbreak and would be just one of 362 tornadoes formed over a three-day period from Arkansas to Virginia.

But for Raymond Watson and other survivors, it would be the most life-changing one.

By the time it reached Pleasant Grove, where Raymond worked, the EF4 tornado - over 1.5 miles wide at one point - had already torn through downtown Tuscaloosa, carving a wide swath of destruction and obliterating the Alberta City and Holt communities. Every tree was snapped in its path. The twister was so strong, it picked up a 34-ton metal truss on a railroad trestle and tossed it like a child’s toy 100 feet up on a nearby hill. Forty-four people were killed in and around Tuscaloosa before the tornado moved past the region, heading toward a much bigger target: the Birmingham metro area.

Raymond was at work at his machine shop when the tornado approached. It wasn’t a surprise; they had been following the storms. Raymond’s first thought was for his wife.

“I was at work when I left work to get in the way of the tornado, which doesn’t make much sense, but I did it anyway,” says Raymond. “I went home and my wife and I got in the basement.”

Raymond had been tracking the funnel and told his wife that the tornado would pass within a block of their house. He was eerily accurate, but instead of being a block away, the tornado passed through his back yard - and through his house.

He remembers the way the whole house was shaking, and the incredibly loud noise. Having worked in an industrial setting for most of his life, the noise wasn’t unfamiliar to him, but it shook his wife. As he says, “You just react. There’s not much time for scared.”

The top of Raymond’s basement was a massive slab which formed the foundation for the home’s front porch. As Raymond and his wife took shelter in the basement, the tornado came through and ripped the house completely off its foundation - which took away the wall that was supporting the slab.

It fell at an angle, and Raymond - reacting instantly - pushed his wife out of the way, to safety.

The slab then fell on top of Raymond’s leg, pinning him.

The tornado went away as quickly as it had appeared, leaving behind a grievously wounded Raymond.

“When the storm subsided,” he says, “I had told her, ‘I lost my leg.’ I didn’t have to wait for a doctor to tell me. I knew that I was going to be without it.”

Fortunately for him, a volunteer firefighter showed up and helped free Raymond from the slab. And a nurse showed up soon after to put a tourniquet on his heavily-bleeding leg.

“Had she not put the tourniquet on, I would’ve bled out,” says Raymond.

He fell unconscious and was taken to UAB, where they performed surgery. He eventually woke up several days later.

It’s a testament to the spirit and strength of Raymond that he was determined to life the same life he had always lived - to continue to work in his machine shop, support his family, and do the things he wanted to do. The alternative just wasn’t an option.

Six weeks after his injury, Raymond picked up his first prosthesis from BioTech. He was behind a walker for just two weeks. And he could carry on his daily activities after just two months.

Now, he has an electronically-controlled prosthetic device that helps him walk as smoothly as anyone with two natural legs. If you didn’t know Raymond was missing a leg, you’d never guess that he was an amputee - especially if you see him at work in his shop in Pleasant Grove, carrying on just like he was doing that fateful day several Aprils ago.

Raymond credits the doctors at UAB and the professionals at BioTech for his recovery. Of course, his indomitable spirit didn’t hurt, either - that quiet strength he exudes at all times. This spirit is what helps amputees overcome their limb loss and recognize all their possibilities in life.

A tornado is a fearsome thing. So is the prospect of a life without one or more of your limbs. And yet, there is hope - hope that no storm can extinguish, and no storm clouds can obscure. Raymond Watson is a living testament of that hope.

Looking for more information about BioTech? Contact us today.

From a Chinese Orphanage to an American Home: Jonathan Hixon’s Story

leg prosthesis

In China, a country with a population of over 1.5 billion people, there are roughly one million orphans. No one is really sure as to the exact number. All we know is that there are many, and their needs are massive - beyond our imagination. It’s a tragic tale, full of sorrow and despair, a story of abandonment and neglect. What’s worse is that many of these orphans have special needs but lack the resources to be properly cared for.

In the face of such an overwhelmingly large tragedy, how can one person possibly make a difference? It seems impossible.

Rebecca and Eric Hixon don’t believe that.

Over the years, the couple has adopted six children from China - two boys and four girls. Their names are Jonathan, Josiah, Ruthie, Sarah Kate, Miriam, and Naomi. All of them have some form of special needs, ranging from moderate to severe. And these six children are in addition to the eight biological children that the Hixons have.

Six children were pulled from wretchedness in a foreign country and placed into a safe, secure, loving home here in America - all because one couple decided that they could and would make a difference.

Rebecca points to her faith as the catalyst for what her family has been able to do. “Several years ago, we were doing missions in Nicaragua and the Lord just opened our eyes to the orphan crisis around the world,” says Rebecca. “The Lord is the one who opened our hearts to this. He saved us and adopted us into His family. That just opened our eyes that we could adopt children into our lives and open our arms and our hearts and our homes to these children.”

“It is a blessing,” she adds.

One of her blessings is one of her oldest adopted children, ten-year-old Jonathan. When they first saw Jonathan, he had a deformed right leg that wouldn’t allow him to walk, only crawl. He also had a mild case of cerebral palsy, and he’s missing several fingers on his left hand, too. But when some people would unfortunately see a damaged child, the Hixons felt compassion well up in their hearts, and saw a precious child of God in need of love and care.

After his adoption, Jonathan had his deformed right leg amputated by doctors at Children’s Hospital. Shortly after, Jonathan was connected with BioTech to receive his first prosthesis. Over the years Jonathan has been with us, we’ve had to modify and adapt his prosthetic device to fit the needs of a growing boy - and it’s been a joy along the way to see him growing up before our eyes, getting healthier and stronger with each visit.

Jonathan puts his leg to good use, too; he loves playing outside with his brothers and sisters. He lives as normal of a life as any other child, something that the Hixons were determined to offer him. He plays video games, loves crossword puzzles, likes to read, and enjoys watching movies.

“He’s a very compassionate child,” says his mother. “He’s just a great, all-around kid.”

And although he has struggles, every time we see him in our office, Jonathan always has a laugh and a smile waiting for us. The small gestures are some of the things that make what we do a true blessing, and that is exactly what Jonathan has been to us and his family.

“BioTech has been outstanding and has helped Jonathan from the very beginning,” says Rebecca. “We’re so thankful for the work BioTech does. Their customer service is impeccable and their work is excellent.”

We’re thankful for the opportunity to help Jonathan, but we’re also thankful for people like Rebecca and Eric Hixon, who have such an open heart for children. Because of them, Jonathan and his adopted brothers and sisters have gone from a sad, tragic situation to one filled with hope and love.

Looking for more information on BioTech and our services? Contact us today.

Meet Our Patients: Katelynn Horne

orthotics brace spina bifida KAFO orthosis

Emilyn and Katelynn Horne look just alike. That makes sense, since they’re seven-year-old twin sisters. Both have long, straight brown hair. Both wear glasses. Both have adorable faces that can easily break out into smiles. They often think the same thing and even say the same words at the same time.

There’s just one notable difference: Katelynn wears a brace, and Emilyn doesn’t.

Katelynn was born with spina bifida, a condition in which the spinal cord and spine don’t form as they should. Many people who are born with spina bifida have mobility problems, and so does Katelynn. She has drop foot and no feeling on the left side of her leg, and has to wear a knee-ankle-foot orthosis (KAFO) that wraps around her leg from mid-thigh all the way to her feet. (Her brace is currently covered in Disney princesses, although she could soon change it to something else.)

Over the years - since she was four months old - Katelynn has undergone four surgeries. Two of these surgeries were detetherings, which sounds scary and, to a seven-year-old, is scary. A detethering is when fatty tissue forms around the base of the spinal cord and has to be removed. The surgeons debride  the tissue so that it can continue to grow properly, which is essential for a young girl sprouting up as quickly as Katelynn has.

The last surgery occurred just seven months ago and was, according to her mother Heather, an ordeal. “The last surgery was pretty rough,” she said. “She’s older and she’s more aware of the pain levels. She was having a lot of back pain from growing so quickly.” For the fourth time in her short life, Katelynn was back in surgery, now old enough to understand what was going on - and why her body hurt like it did.

After the first surgery at four months, it was clear to the doctors that Katelynn was going to have trouble walking. That meant bracing.

At first, Katelynn wore a supra-malleolar orthosis (SMO) on her right leg and an ankle-foot orthosis (AFO) on her left. For a mother, it’s hard to watch your little girl struggle to walk with what basically amounts to machinery on her small legs and feet. It was even harder to know that the relatively small AFO wasn’t enough; they would have to move up to an even bigger brace, a KAFO.

After some time, Heather said they were mentally prepared to move to the larger brace, and they did. Now, Katelynn can move around a lot better because the KAFO gives more stability to her left leg.

What does she do with this brace? Anything she wants! Katelynn loves to run and play with her sister. And she also does something every little girl wants to do: ride horses. Katelynn says riding horses is one of her favorite things to do - although while she would love a horse of her own, she doesn’t suspect that her parents will buy her one.

Heather credits BioTech Limb and Brace  for much of the success Katelynn has had over the years. While they now live in south Alabama, which is over four hours away, they keep coming back to Birmingham. When asked if she would recommend BioTech Limb and Brace to other families, Heather doesn’t hesitate in her response.

“Oh, definitely. That’s why we drive over four hours to come here,” she says with a smile on her face. “They’re phenomenal.”

We at BioTech are blessed to have such a charming and adorable patient like Katelynn, who is also a courageous little girl who isn’t letting her condition interfere with what she wants to do. Our hope is she’ll continue to have the same great spirit as she grows and always strive to recognize her possibilities - and achieve them.

Our Patient Possibilities: Hyman Nall

Miles College is a liberal arts college located just west of Birmingham, in the city of Fairfield. Founded in 1898, the school’s mascot is the Golden Bear, and its football team belongs to the NCAA Division II, where they compete with teams across the country.

On Saturday nights in the fall, as with many other places throughout the South, you can join thousands of other fans to watch the Golden Bears play in Albert J. Sloan-Alumni Stadium. The home side of the stadium will be filled with countless fans - families, really - proudly wearing the purple and gold. For these people, Miles College football means a lot.

It especially means a lot for Hyman Nall.

Mr. Nall can be found in the stadium each and every Saturday night in the fall, watching his beloved Golden Bears play. He’s always been a big supporter and booster of the college and hates to miss a game. You’ll probably notice him, if you go; he’ll be the energetic 76-year-old yelling and cheering. He’ll also be the one walking carefully up and down the steps - which is amazing that he’s walking at all, considering he’s a double amputee.

Three years ago, due to a mixture of genetic conditions and diabetes, Mr. Nall lost his first leg. A year later, he lost his second. Suddenly, at the age of 74, Mr. Nall found himself faced with the prospect of never walking again - of never walking up and down the steps at Miles College under his own power.

Two years and many visits to several prosthetic device makers later, Mr. Nall found himself at BioTech, being outfitted with the latest set of legs. His new prostheses were beyond anything he had ever had before, with suction suspension and custom silicone liners made at our in-house silicone lab. They would get him where he needed to go - but only if he could master them.

So the work began. Under the tutelage of Eric Eisenberg and the BioTech team, Mr. Nall began the journey to regain mobility. It wasn’t easy. Walking without assistance for a double leg amputee is difficult, far more so than most people can understand. The tendency is always there to reach out and grab something for fear of falling over, and even after several sessions, Mr. Nall was doing just that - just trying to stand, let alone walk.

Eventually, he was able to stand, and even take steps forward. Then he had to do something most people don’t think twice about: turn around. It seems so simple, just a few steps in a small circle. But for Mr. Nall, it was a barrier, one that he had to tackle relentlessly, just like one of the football players he loves to watch.

But tackle it he did.

Through toughness and perseverance, after session after session, Mr. Nall was finally able to do something he had once thought he’d never be able to do again: walk unassisted, completely on his own, under his own power.

It took a combination of sheer willpower and modern technology to get him to this point, but now Mr. Nall can move around like a pro. He’s still learning, still practicing, but he’s to the point where those steps in the Miles College stadium won’t hold him back.

Come fall, when the temperature drops and the leaves start to hit the ground, you’ll find him where he always is on a Saturday night - sitting in the stands, watching his team play, and enjoying the simple things in life that others might take for granted. Like the ability to walk again, to be independent, to be free of crutches and canes and wheelchairs.

Prosthetic devices can go a long way, but a spirit unwilling to quit - a spirit willing to compete - has to handle the rest. And like the Golden Bears, Mr. Nall has that spirit through and through.

A Thank You Note from Samuel

Here at BioTech, our patients come first – no matter what. And while we know our customers love us (almost) as much as we love them, it’s always nice to get a thank you note from someone who wants to tell us how we made a difference in their life.

Take a look at this adorable message and artwork from one of our patients, Samuel Johnson!

thank you note

Dear BioTech Limb and Brace,

I’m very thankful that Children’s Hospital had told us about these braces. These braces are better than my other braces, and very much more comfortable then [sic] the others. My first braces I hated because they always pinched me, and it left blood blisters because they had hinjes [sic]. My second braces was [sic] a lot better than the first ones because instead of hinjes they had flexible plastic.

The first and second pair of braces are nothing compared to these awesome carbonite braces with springs. Now I know for a fact that they have springs. Well how I know is because when we was [sic] at co-op which is a place where we meet up with other homeschoolers to do class on every Monday. I was racing my friends inside and jumped higher than ever before and I couldn’t stop myself from from [sic] falling so I slid across the concrete and flew into the door. The first time I put these braces on I felt a whole lot better. Thank you BioTech for helping me.


Samuel K. Johnson

thank you note

We Can Help You Feel a Whole Lot Better, Too!

Improving quality of life is one of our main goals for our patients. That’s why Samuel’s letter resonates with us so deeply – he has put into words what we want for everyone who walks through our door. Whether it’s orthotic braces or a prosthetic device, patient comfort and satisfaction is our top goal.

Contact us today to find out how we can help you!

Danielle Shares Her BioTech Experience

Custom Prosthetic Devices

In 2006, Danielle Brooke was jetskiing with her middle school friends at Lake Martin during the summer. A tow rope used to pull a float was coiled up and left in the footwell on the jet ski.

Danielle was excited to be in the water and  stepped onto the jet ski and took off - without realizing that the rope was still in the well. The rope caught around her ankle, and due to the high speed, leading to her limb loss from the calf down.

During her stay at Children’s Hospital following the accident, Danielle met Eric at BioTech Limb and Brace. By August that same year, Danielle was walking on her new custom prosthetic leg.

Like many of our amazing and inspiring patiences, merely walking was only the start of her incredible journey and aspirations. She had her sights set on more.

Not long after receiving her prosthesis, Danielle was ready to jump into high school athletics - always having the heart, perseverance, and passion of a true athlete. To excel, she needed a running prosthesis.

Danielle Gets Her First BioTech Running Prosthesis

BioTech helped develop custom running prosthesis for Danielle that allowed her to join the school track team and run for two years.

To help Danielle get used to the new device, fellow amputees at the Lakeshore Foundation in Birmingham, Alabama talked her through the process, helped her adjust to the new lifestyle, and showed her how to run on her new leg.

By sixteen years old, Danielle was barrel racing with horses and realized that she needed to modify her current running prosthesis in order to get a better fit.

With her new leg, Danielle was simply excelling, she even joined her high school cheerleading team. With BioTech’s help, Danielle got a knee brace that increased the comfort and function of her running prosthesis to make it a better fit for her new love for cheerleading.

Throughout Danielle’s entire journey, the BioTech team has loved helping Danielle to recognize and achieve her possibilities with proper fitting and functioning prosthetic devices.

Realize Your Possibilities with BioTech Limb & Brace

Danielle has been with BioTech for nine years and most recently become the mother of an adorable six-month-old baby. She has gone from chasing after gold medals to chasing after her a little one.

To all of those who have suffered limb loss, she offers a few words of inspiration:

Life does not end just because you lose a limb. I’ve done way more after my accident than before with help from BioTech technology.

We are proud of Danielle and her accomplishments and are ecstatic that we have been able to be part of her incredible journey.

At BioTech, we treat all of our patients like family. Let us help you recognize your possibilities and achieve your dreams with a custom fitted prosthetic or orthotic device.