By Dawn M Chiossi
There is no such word as can’t. When it comes to children just starting out when facing life’s challenges, it’s a beneficial motto. It not only gives the confidence that kids need, it sets up a mindset that challenges are not something to be afraid of, they are to be faced, embraced, and ultimately, overtaken.
Childhood should be filled with wonder, laughter, fun. Kids are often balls of boundless energy, and Hanover resident, nine-year-old Michaella Metz is no exception. She is a member of the cheerleading squad, a member of the competition dance team, does gymnastics, and other sports such as softball.
In short, Metz has the energy of most nine-year-old’s, but this little girl has one issue that others her age do not: she is a below the knee amputee. For Metz and the rest of her family, there is no such word as can’t.
A transtibial or below the knee amputation is a surgical procedure designed to remove a lower limb that has been damaged due to trauma, congenital defect or disease. Although such amputations are much more prevalent in older people, any age group can be an amputee.
According to mother, Maria Metz, they found out about Michaella’s condition when she was in utero. “We sat down with the doctor who advised my husband and I that he saw an issue,” she shares candidly. “He said that it looked as though the foot/leg had something wrong. The bones looked small and/or the leg looked short and possibly there was an issue with the foot as well.”
That staggering news didn’t even give the Metz family pause. It was then that they sprang into action, educating themselves, and drenching themselves in learning about what they and their baby were going to have to endure. “Before our baby was born, we sought out many specialists, cardiologists, orthopedists. I researched everything under the sun about abnormalities in legs/feet in utero and results etc…” she explains. “When (the baby) was born, I thought she looked amazing compared to what was described to me. In my eyes she was perfect! We chose her name Michaella because it means closest to God,” Maria Metz shares, “We were meant to have this baby. Our road was meant to take us to this moment with this baby, she saved us.”
Firm in her belief and devotion to her daughter, she goes on to say, “After Michaella was born we met with a few doctors and continued to do research about her situation. We decided to meet with Dr. Richard Davidson, a Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia along with consulting with her pediatrician Dr. Charles Garbarino. We were advised that there were basically two choices: We could have her live her life in a wheelchair or we could amputate her foot and put her in a prosthetic. We made the agonizing decision to amputate her foot so she could live her life as she wanted.”
Being such a staunch advocate and champion for their daughter served the Metz family well. Michaella herself inherited that same stubborn drive and fighting spirit. The amputation surgery took place when Michaella was only seven months old. Through all of the hardship, in really observing her daughter, Maria Metz noticed something amazing about her.
“She continued to play and climb (although she had a cast on for weeks) and endure the hot summer months with poise and grace and a continuous infectious smile,” her mother says. “She showed us what strength was all about.”
Upon receiving her prosthetic at a mere nine months old, Metz not only endured surgeries, physical therapies, and recoveries, she also went about the business of living life, just like any other girl out there.
Through it all, Metz remained a spunky fighter who loves giving hugs, loves babies and little kids, enjoys school and writing stories, and so much more. Embracing life with the philosophy that if there was anything that she wanted to do, they would find a way to have her do it, Metz’s parents passed down the proactive, empowering philosophy to her. This includes physical pursuits–something that would surprise the world at large, if they didn’t know her.
At 9 months old, Metz was enrolled in Diamond Gymnastics. She discovered that she loved running, jumping and tumbling. She attended classes at the gymnastics club for 6 years.
Enrolled at Sharon’s Studio of Dance and Music when she was 2, Metz found another passion–Dancing. “She was able to learn the skills with no issues, and she was embraced by both the studio and especially her first teacher, Miss Susan,” Maria Metz asserts.
For 7 years, Metz has been relishing all kinds of dances, from performing Hip-Hop, Acro, Tap, Jazz, Ballet, Lyrical, and even made the competition team this past September. Metz has performed both in team numbers and solos and she has even won.
Metz’s enthusiasm for sports even extends to cheerleading with the Hanover Tigers- something she has been doing for four years. In her routines, Metz is elated to use her tumbling ability, “Something that she absolutely lives for,” Maria Metz remarks.
Tee-ball, softball, ice skating, roller skating, even rock climbing, this dynamic nine-year-old does not let anything stop her, living life with no limits or regrets. “As Michaella started each activity, we would never tell anyone that she was an amputee,” her mother relates. “When the teachers found out, they’d say, ‘We never would have known.’”
Perhaps that is the best compliment that Metz could receive: being admired for her skills, talents, hard work, and ability, alone. Without any notice of physical appearance, whatsoever.
Her hero is unequivocally Amy Purdy, an inspiration to Metz. Purdy is a bilateral amputee Paralympian. She had been runner up in Dancing With The Stars and additionally founded Adaptive Action Sports, an organization that helps individuals with physical limitations get involved in skateboarding, snowboarding and all action sports.
A gregarious girl that enjoys family (and this includes grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins) and friends, Metz has an extensive variety of interests including jumping on her trampoline, swimming, making up dances, and playing football with her cousins. She enjoys bowling with her dad, cooking with her grandmother. She loves the Green Bay Packers and her favorite band is Locash (she has even met and sang with them.) She even likes picking up worms with her grandfather and making slime with her friends.
“I love so many things about my daughter,” Maria Metz asserts. “I love that she lives life with no limits, I love her beautiful heart, poise and grace. I love her laugh and her sense of humor, her spirit, strength and determination. I love how when she sees someone else with a prosthetic, she always runs up to them and shows them hers. I love how she asks questions, how she slows things down by spending time with people. I love how she feels so deeply about everything and I especially love how she loves.”
For Maria Metz the most impressive thing about her daughter is her deep sensitivity and insight regarding the human condition. Realizing that her own condition and subsequent challenges do not get her down, instead they work to help her shine. Describing her as kind and loving, her mother relates her generosity of spirit in giving to others. “In Kindergarten, Michaella participated in her school’s Creativity Fair. For two years, she decided to have me video her telling why each of her classmates were special (for example she would say “Nico is special because he has a great heart and is really good at soccer,”) doing this with each student. She then had pictures with each of the kids in her class in a video montage.”
She relates that this year, Metz’s school had an event called a Good Character Fair in which Michaella and a friend partnered up to run a lemonade stand and bake sale to raise donations for the Amputee Coalition which is the nation’s leading non-profit organization on limb loss, “In two hours, they raised $400.06,” she praises.
In terms of her future plans, Metz already has several goals she hopes to achieve: She wants to become an amputee peer advisor next year (10 is the age regulation) so she can share her story and help other amputees,” Maria Metz shares. Mentioning her incredible empathy and connection with others, “she believes she would be a great help in fitting prosthetics specifically because she knows first-hand what they are going through.”
Metz’s other ambition is to become a cardiac surgeon. When asked why, she states, “because I believe I’d be really good at it.”
Whatever Metz decides to do, chances are she will grab ahold of it with the same empowering zeal that she exudes in every other part of her life.
“Michaella inspires me in so many ways,” her mother says emotionally. “People should look at her, the things she does, and how she lives her life and gain an appreciation for the things they have and what they can do. She does all of this with one foot and a prosthetic. She raises the bar.”
Maria Metz recalls one particular moment when Michaella was growing up that made everything clear. “When Michaella was 2 years old, my niece gave her a pair of her old tap shoes, she couldn’t wait to put them on. She started tapping around the house and said, “feels good, Momma. Feels good.” The next day I heard banging in the other room. When I went in there, I saw her on top of the coffee table (at 2 years old, mind you) and Michaella had those tap shoes on, dancing on top of the table. This moment reminds me of her fearlessness, confidence, and belief in herself that no matter what challenge she has faced, or will face, she will overcome it with persistence and grace. I call her my “Wonder Woman”,” her mother remarks. “The Easter Bunny is also bringing her a shirt that says ‘She needed a hero, so she became one’, and I think that’s really what she is.”
April is Limb Loss Awareness month. For further information or details on the Amputee Coalition, please visit www.amputee-coalition.org/