Local

Bellingham amputee walking to help people in foreign lands walk again

Colleen Haggerty and her husband, Mark Robinson, walk along West Street in the Columbia neighborhood on Thursday, May 6, 2010. Haggerty is walking one mile a day for 100 days to raise money for the Prosthetics Outreach Foundation, which provides prosthetics to developing countries. The mother of two lost her left leg in a car accident 32 years ago. "I wanted to keep walking, but I wanted to do something that was for more than just me," Haggerty said.
Colleen Haggerty and her husband, Mark Robinson, walk along West Street in the Columbia neighborhood on Thursday, May 6, 2010. Haggerty is walking one mile a day for 100 days to raise money for the Prosthetics Outreach Foundation, which provides prosthetics to developing countries. The mother of two lost her left leg in a car accident 32 years ago. "I wanted to keep walking, but I wanted to do something that was for more than just me," Haggerty said. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Colleen Haggerty was a 17-year-old high school student from Bellevue when she drove her older sister to Western Washington University on a wintry January day.

South of Bellingham on the freeway, their car spun 180 degrees in the snow and came to rest against the guardrail by the fast lane. They waited for help, but cars in the slow lane kept going.

When Haggerty stepped out of her car to seek help, a driver in the fast lane tried to move over, but lost traction and pinned Haggerty against her car.

Her left leg had to be amputated above the knee.

Today, Haggerty is a 50-year-old mother and the program director at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Washington.

She's also a re-energized walker after years of painful inertia, so much so that she's walking to raise money for a Seattle foundation that helps amputees in foreign lands walk again on two legs.

After her young-adult years as a gung-ho amputee athlete, Haggerty found herself stymied by pain and inactivity after her pregnancies. Five months ago, she vowed to change.

"I had gotten to a place where I was pretty immobile," she said, "and I didn't like that."

LOSING MOBILITY

After the accident, Haggerty was determined not to let her status as an amputee slow her down. She snow skied and she backpacked. She played amputee soccer. She sky-dived.

"I had to know what I could do," she said.

She later earned a degree in therapeutic recreation at Western and went into social service. She and her husband, Mark Robinson, moved to Bellingham seven years ago from the Seattle area.

Haggerty loves her children - Luke, 13, and Tessa, 10 - but found her pregnancies, with their related weight gain and shift in her hip bones, made it more painful to walk. More recently, she had difficulty finding a comfortable socket for her new prosthetic leg.

The result: She walked less and sat more. She could get around the house and office, and could navigate the grocery store, but anything longer was too hard, too painful.

"I realized I'm going to turn 50 and I've got to turn the tide," she said.

SETTING GOALS

Haggerty recently enrolled in Excellence Northwest, a local program that helps people set goals to improve their lives. She set a goal of being able to walk Tessa to or from school, a distance of one mile, round-trip.

Haggerty had seven weeks to reach her goal, and began a blog - "My Mile Walk" - to document the experience. By the 11th day, she doing well enough that she set a bigger goal: hike two miles.

Twenty-two days after she began, she walked Tessa home from school. On day 42, she hiked to Fragrance Lake, a four-mile trip.

She decided to think bigger, and happened to see a newspaper story about the thousands of Haitians who are now amputees after the Jan. 12 earthquake there.

The story mentioned the Prosthetics Outreach Foundation, a Seattle program that helps people in Vietnam, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone and Liberia who are amputees or clubfooted. The foundation helps those countries become self-sufficient by training people to treat amputees and to make prosthetic limbs using local materials.

HELPING OTHERS

Haggerty visited the foundation and learned its first benefit walkathon was set for July 10 in Seattle. She found a new goal.

She decided to walk a mile a day for 100 days, with the goal of raising $30,000, enough for 100 prosthetic limbs, and plans to complete her 100th mile at the walkathon.

Haggerty knows there are amputees in other countries who face much bigger challenges in life. Despite some pain, she's now walking for them.

"I think about the mothers who want to walk and carry their baby," she said. "Or the fathers who can't get a job. Or the children who can't go to school because they can't get there."

DETAILS

To help Colleen Haggerty raise money for the Prosthetics Outreach Foundation, see her blog at mymilewalk.blogspot.com.

For details about the foundation, see pofsea.org or call (206) 726-1636.

For information about Excellence Northwest, see excellencenw.org or call 715-0105.

  Comments