When Aynslie was very young, doctors told Heathyr, her mom, that the girl most likely needed to have her right leg amputated so she would be able to walk using a prosthetic limb. Heathyr found another way, though. And at the age of seven, Aynslie achieved something that most of her contemporaries wouldn’t even dream of trying.
When Heathyr was just over five months pregnant, she was told that her baby would be born with a congenital defect: fibular hemimelia. Heathyr immediately set about researching the condition.
Most people have two bones in the bottom half of their leg: the fibula and the tibia, the second being thicker than the first. For babies born with fibular hemimelia, however, it’s different.
In cases of fibular hemimelia, the fibula may either be entirely absent or it may be undersized. Meanwhile, the tibia may be twisted or shortened. And while it may sound unusual, at birth, it’s actually the most frequently observed deficiency in the lower limbs.
The condition ultimately means that the affected leg will appear shorter than the other. Fibular hemimelia can also impact the development of the foot and the knee. In Aynslie’s case, she was born with no fibula in her right leg and has four toes on the foot of that leg. Without intervention, she would never be able to walk.
Treatment of fibular hemimelia is gauged towards the impact that the condition will have on the child’s life. Broadly, the aim of surgery is to give the child two legs of equal length. This can mean amputating part of the affected leg so that it can be replaced with a prosthetic.
And in Aynslie’s case the doctors recommended an amputation. However, Heathyr knew that she didn’t want her daughter to have to undergo the surgery. Doing nothing was not an option, though. She hence searched for an alternative, looking for the best outcome that would allow her daughter to keep her leg.
Eventually, Heathyr found an orthopedic surgeon who could help. He was based in Florida, and his speciality was in rebuilding limbs. What’s more, he had successfully treated other children with fibular hemimelia – and he would operate on Aynslie.
This wouldn’t be cheap, but Heathyr was determined that her daughter would have the treatment that she needed. Consequently, she turned to the public for help. The family arranged a fundraiser that hosted an auction and a raffle. Meanwhile, an online GoFundMe campaign raised thousands of dollars more.
This didn’t mean that Heathyr and Aynslie’s struggles were over, though. The process to alter Aynslie’s leg would be neither easy nor short. Aynslie was only 18 months old when she had her first operation, in January 2013, which was followed by months of physical therapy. But it would not be the last time that the girl had to endure surgery.
Aynslie’s second operation was in October 2017, nearly five years after the first procedure. And as her legs would continue to grow at different rates, she would need regular operations over the course of her entire childhood to ensure that she could walk.
The second operation involved breaking Aynslie’s tibia to help lengthen it. During the first surgery, Aynslie’s tibia was extended by just under two inches. In the second, it was lengthened by just a little more. And by the time that Aynslie is an adult, the goal is that the two legs should be the same length.
There was further work that needed to be done during the surgery, however. Aynslie needed to have an external fixator fitted. Consisting of rods, rings and wires, it was attached directly to the bone and would hold Aynslie’s tibia in place, while pushing her foot into a different position.
As it was attached straight to the bone, the frame left wounds on Aynslie’s legs which were prone to infection. Indeed, Aynslie had to go to hospital due to infections caused by the fixator. Another drawback was the fact that it made Aynslie’s disability very visible. What’s more, it weighed more than six pounds – not an insignificant weight for a child of Aynslie’s size.
And even after all of this, Aynslie still needed props built into her shoe to even the lengths of her legs. As Heathyr told Unilad, Aynslie sometimes felt like the odd one out among other children. Through sheer determination, though, the little girl would achieve something far beyond what most seven-year-olds might manage.
Indeed, Aynslie was hardly going slow. Like many girls her age, Heathyr said, she enjoyed Disney princesses, going to the beach and playing in the snow. She also liked to be as active as she could be.
Another hobby of hers was swimming – and she hoped to get on a swim team. She also played baseball and had earned herself a Taekwondo yellow belt. Her future ambitions included going skiing but, in the meantime, she passed what would be an impressive milestone for any seven-year-old.
And the occasion would allow her to prove that all the pain had been worth it. Aynslie would show the world what she could do – by taking part in a 5-kilometer (3.1 mile) race. Doctors had said that Aynslie would likely need to have a leg amputated to be able to walk – but she had proved them wrong.
“It has been an emotional, psychological and financial rollercoaster and sometimes it felt as though it would never end,” Heathyr told Unilad. “As Aynslie crossed the finish line and was being cheered on by the crowd I felt extremely proud, as any parent would.”
“I was also amazed, as I always am, by her strength and determination,” Heathyr added. Aynslie still has a world of ambitions to fulfill – but she has shown that there’s not much that can stop her.