Miles takes it all in stride
July 8, 2011
People like Miles are seen more and more frequently around Fort Knox these days. He wears a titanium prosthesis where his right leg should be. And he recently competed in a national event with his new running prosthesis.
But there’s one critical difference between Miles and others sporting the same kind of hardware.
Miles just celebrated his “graduation” from kindergarten and his sixth birthday.
Unlike Soldiers who have lost a limb due to a combat injury, Miles was born with his deficit. The femur in his right leg never developed; the anomaly is known as proximal focal femoral deficiency. The only option that would allow him to stand or walk independently was to amputate the worthless appendage and create a good pad for an artificial leg.
Fortunately, Miles’ parents were guided by level-headed doctors.
“The surgeon told us, ‘this deformity does not define your child,’” said Anna Thomas, a teacher at Fort Knox High School. “’He has a good mind and a healthy body in all other respects; he is more than this handicap’.”
His amputation was performed at the Shriners Hospital in Lexington while Miles was just a toddler, and because physicians had the luxury of controlling where the resection should occur"unlike those resulting from an injury"they were able to create a good cushion for the prosthesis to rest on. Because of that cushion, Miles doesn’t have the “phantom” pain or residual limb problems that plague many amputees.
The parents also chose to fit Miles with a titanium rod rather than a prosthesis that feels and looks more like human flesh.
“We wanted him to grow up without being ashamed of his disability. If he decides later that he wants a more life-like prosthesis, that’s fine. We can do that. But we thought it would be easier to start this way rather than the reverse. If he learns to deal with it while he’s young, it shouldn’t be a big deal later,” Anna added. “Besides, right now he has more fun with his Iron Man prosthetic; he’s had a Spiderman and one with an Army logo.”
Fortunately, Miles seems to be a normal, happy child who takes his disability in stride. On the first day of kindergarten, after his parents coordinated with the teacher, he stood before the class to show them his prosthesis, which prompted “Oohs” and “Aahs” from his classmates, who refer to Miles’ prosthesis as “robotics.”
“We thought it would be a good idea to tackle the issue head-on and get it out of the way,” said Robert Thomas, Miles’ dad, a retired Army NCO and now employee at Accessions Command. A former recruiter, Rob said he has seen too many young people with no ambition, little discipline and nonexistent manners. He is determined that his children"Miles has a younger brother and two older siblings"will not grow up with those qualities.
“My wife thinks I’m too hard on him, and I think she’s too lenient. He has to learn to be independent but polite,” Rob said.
Several times throughout the interviews, if Miles responded with a yes or no, one of his parents would prompt him … “Yes, what??”
“Yes, ma’am,” Miles would quickly reply.
To encourage Miles as an athlete, the Thomas family attended the Endeavor Games in Oklahoma last year, but Miles wasn’t able to compete because he didn’t have a running leg. This year, however, he received the running prosthesis just a month before the competition. He had some adjustment issues to face, because his normal walking prosthesis has a knee “joint,” so to speak, unlike the running leg, which doesn’t have a joint. The running leg requires Miles to use a swinging motion from the hip"similar to a roundhouse kick"while his everyday walking prosthesis allows a more natural gait and motion.
He must have mastered the motion, because Miles pocketed two gold medals and one bronze.
“But they made a mistake,” Miles reported excitedly. “I’m going to get a second-place medal in the mail"what color is that again?”
Anna agreed that they were informed of a timing error, so Miles, indeed, will receive a silver medal to add to his collection.
“(The competition) was really good for him,” she said.
He met other children with similar disabilities and"like most children"they got along well.
In addition to his running, Miles is taking golf lessons and his parents are investigating the possibility of fencing lessons as well.
“We want Miles to succeed in as many areas as possible,” Anna explained. “We don’t want him to grow up thinking he can’t do certain things because of his leg.”
Miles attends school at North Hardin Christian School"even though the family lives in southern Indiana"so they ride to work together and the school bus calls for the youngster at the Maude complex on Fort Knox.
“We chose a private school for Miles because we wanted him to grow up with a network of friends that would stay fairly constant,” Anna said. “But we don’t want him to be treated differently, either.”
Miles has to have his prosthesis adjusted every six months and, because of his rapid growth, replaced about once a year.
Realizing that other parents may be struggling with children who have disabilities, Anna and Robert said they wanted to do this story in order to provide support and encouragement to others.
“Robert and I are drawn to stories about amputees, and we show them to Miles,” she said. “We want him to see how others have fared and we want others to be inspired by Miles’ success.
“He wants to meet a Soldier who has lost a limb, and we’d like to facilitate that. Especially when an amputation is traumatic, it’s easy to think your life is over. Maybe Miles could encourage someone.”