Oklahoma City-based Limbs for Life helps amputees afford prosthetics

Most little boys play sports and crawl in the dirt. They get into mischief with their siblings and seem to possess never-ending energy as they bounce around the house and run around the neighborhood. 

Six-year-old Connor Karow is no different. He runs track and plays soccer along with a host of other sports. The only difference between Connor and his friends is that he doesn't have a right leg from the knee down. 


But with the help of a prosthesis and the Oklahoma City-based Limbs for Life Foundation, Connor is as rough and rambunctious as any little boy.

Connor's parents, Michael and Colleen, and his doctors don't know why he was born without a full leg. But they were introduced to the prospect of prosthetics before he was born, and they could see that prosthetic technology would be able to give their son a full life.

"We don't try and limit on anything. He plays soccer, he plays baseball, and he rides his scooter," Michael Karow said. "It doesn't slow him down. And when he got his running leg, he was so excited because he could really run quickly, and Ryan (Connor's brother) actually came to me and said, 'Dad, I don't like Connor's new leg because he's running too fast.'"

The upper part of Connor's leg is made of billet aluminum and carbon fiber with red and yellow flames running up the carbon shell. His knee is an aluminum, four-axis hinge that gives him the ability to swing his knee forward and walk in much the same way everyone else does. 

Connor's foot is what really stands out. It's a curved blade of carbon fiber with a rubber sole on the bottom. The curved blade, like what South African Paralympics runner Oscar Pistorius uses, acts as a spring as Connor moves. 

Coincidentally, the Karow family are South African, and had the chance to meet Pistorius a couple of years ago.

Because Connor is so active and constantly growing, he must have a new leg fitted almost every year, and in between replacements, he must visit his prosthetist regularly.

Even with insurance, the medical bills add up, but with help from Limbs for Life, the Karows have been able to keep Connor as active as he wants to be. 

The average price for an above-knee prosthetic is $16,500. Most insurance plans cover one in a lifetime, but Connor has already had four legs, and he'll need another this summer. 

His prosthetics are covered partially by their insurance company, but the Karows admit that without Limbs for Life, they wouldn't be able to afford them.

"Insurance helps, but there are caps on it," Colleen Karow said. "Limbs for Life has been incredible, because there have been times when the insurance wanted to fault us and didn't want to pay, and they've been there."

Limbs for Life's goal is to give all those they help a full life. The organization has been helping the Karows since 2004, from the time Connor was 2. The Karows were living in California, and had no insurance, said Craig Gavras, executive director and founder of Limbs for Life. 

Five years later, the Karows have insurance and live in north Oklahoma City, and every year, the foundation has helped Connor receive a new leg. Gravas said no matter how many feet, knees or sockets Connor requires, the foundation will be there to help him, along with the 700 or more new patients it awards prosthetics to every year.

"It's funny, because the foot he wears is a sprint foot, and he won't take it off," Gavras said. "It will wear out quicker, but kids are kids, and if it's what he wants to wear, let him wear it.

"It's expensive. If you take the initial cost of the prosthesis, you'll pay 10 percent of that each year in maintenance," he said. "And I don't think there are many families out there that could afford continuous prosthetic bills." 

But with the foundation's help, Gavras said Connor, a strong kid with an even stronger family, will be able to play any game he wants to play and, in the long run, live a rich life, unhampered by a prosthetic.   "Ellis Goodwin

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