Lifenhanced: FEATURED ARTICLE
Ability Keeps Pace with Laura Heinle’s Active Lifestyle
In the winter of 2012, Laura Heinle was snowboarding at Ski Liberty in Pennsylvania when she took a nasty fall. It wasn’t long before she began having shooting pains in her left leg. “I thought maybe I had pinched a nerve,” she says.
An MRI revealed a tumor on the top of her fibula. “My doctor told me the tumor wasn’t common, and she wanted me to have a biopsy right away,” says Laura, who was 43 at the time. She was diagnosed with osteosarcoma and began chemotherapy in June. After several rounds of chemotherapy, however, Laura had to have a transfemoral amputation due to damage to her leg’s nerves and bones.
She initially chose an O&P company recommended by her orthopedic oncologist at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, but later decided to find a new facility, particularly one that was closer to her home in Manchester, Maryland, and that could deliver her prostheses more quickly.
An online search in 2015 brought up the Ability Prosthetics & Orthotics office in Hanover, Pennsylvania, less than 30 minutes from her home. “I was very uncomfortable and frustrated with the types of sockets I had been given and the amount of time it took to get anything done at the previous company. Waiting for something for two weeks is a long time to wait for an amputee,” she says. “Since I was very active, I needed to find a socket that was comfortable and stable. The whole process from the start of my treatment at Ability has been excellent. This is the longest I’ve had a socket I can wear all day every day in comfort.”
Laura met Tom Martin, MS, CP, BOCO, during her first visit to Ability. The two immediately connected. “Tom and Ability have been very easy to work with in order to get the kind of devices I need and want,” Laura says. “I usually have so many questions and requests, and Tom does whatever he can do to help get me the right device.”
Tom says since Laura is engaged on social media and up-to-date on new O&P products, she is knowledgeable about what she wants. “She is always pushing the envelope to do more, all of which makes it a pleasure to help her accomplish her goals,” he says. “We always strive to have optimal results for our patients. Any time there is an issue, we try to see the patient the day they call or no later than the next day.”
The teamwork between Laura and the staff at Ability makes the relationship a win-win for everyone.
“Laura is a motivated and active patient with a great sense of humor,” Tom says. “She is on her prosthesis the majority of the day and doesn’t stop until whatever she wants done is accomplished.”
Laura says one of the things she enjoys most about working with Tom and Ability is his vast knowledge about O&P. “Tom has been an excellent prosthetist for me,” she says. “He pays attention to what I want and need, and he also has a great sense of humor.”
In September 2017, Laura had her first experience with Ability’s Reach-to-Teach calls, the company’s internal process to help expedite the insurance process for coverage of high-tech prostheses. Ability’s CEO and Founder Jeff Brandt, Ability’s chief compliance officer, Stephanie Greene, Esq., the prosthetist, and the patient work together to make the insurance process easier and more efficient. “Reach-to-Teach gets us aligned with our patients by clearly defining everyone’s role,” Jeff says. “We talk realistically with our patients about their claim, that there can be speed bumps, but that’s just part of the process.” Laura came to Ability because she was having difficulty finding a comfortable socket fit, Tom says. “She is an active K-3 ambulator, and when she was ready for a new prosthesis, she trialed a RHEO [KNEE] XC with an Empower foot and loved it,” he says.
Laura says participating in the Reach-to-Teach calls in her continuum of care was beneficial. “Since I had already received another prosthesis within two years, we had to fight to get the new prosthesis to help improve my gait. We went through the pre-approval process, and since some of the coding was new, the insurance company was reluctant to approve it,” she says. “There needed to be current medical documentation from several sources that this new device was a necessity due to my active lifestyle so that they would pay for it.”
Laura, who was one of Ability’s first patients to go through the Reach-to-Teach calls, says the process was helpful in getting her high-tech prosthesis. “We had anticipated insurance issues with coding and pre-approvals for certain parts,” she says.
Tom agrees. “It took effort by all parties, but eventually she was able to get that new definitive prosthesis through her insurance,” he says.
It was a team effort, Laura agrees. “I liked being involved with the process so that I could help in any way I could with doctor documentation. We did a phone conference to go through all the steps and what I needed so that it would go smoothly, and it did.”
When it comes to daily use of her prosthesis, Laura uses a NU-FlexSIV Socket, RHEO KNEE XC microprocessor knee, and a BionX Empower prosthetic foot. Her old prosthesis, which she now uses for swimming, had a LIM Innovations socket to accommodate for volume fluctuations in her residual limb; an Ottobock X3 microprocessor knee; and an Ability Dynamics RUSH81 foot, Tom says.
Having an amputation has not stopped Laura, a middle school special education teacher/case manager for nearly 23 years, from enjoying all the activities she did before cancer claimed her leg, including coaching field hockey, traveling, swimming, and remodeling her house. She had to sell her Harley-Davidson after her amputation, but still rides with her husband. In addition to getting another motorcycle someday, she says she plans to get back to scuba diving and snowboarding.