News

A new leg to stand on

By Susan Gamble, Brantford Expositor

Eric MacKeigan stands on his own two feet but he's asking for the community's help as he prepares to give up one of them during surgery next month.

The 36-year-old man, who was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, is opting to have his right leg amputated at the shin as opposed to a third foot rotation surgery.

"I was born with a club foot and twice in my life I've had this foot rotated," he explains. "They break a bunch of bones, turn it to the proper position and lock it in place with bolts. They have to line up the blood vessels and tissues and recovery is about nine months."

Along with having to remain largely immobile in a partial body cast for three to six months, that surgery comes with the inherent danger of the foot turning gangrenous and having to be amputated regardless.

"I've chosen amputation, knowing the pros and cons. It's the most viable option and will improve my quality of life."

Doctors expect the removal of MacKeigan's club foot will give him better balance and allow him to spend more time out of his wheelchair, walking.

But he faces a serious obstacle: MacKeigan and his wife Christie own a two-storey Morrell Street home that is perfect in many aspects for them but the bathroom is on the second level. MacKeigan won't be able to handle stairs for at least six months.

Initially they planned to put in a first-floor washroom and an outside lift to allow MacKeigan to get in and out of the house but the cost has gone through the roof.

Now the couple is looking at installing two stair lifts to navigate the two sections of their staircase.

"It would be great to be able to ride straight up but we have a landing on the stairs and to get a continuous lift that rounds a corner almost triples the cost," he says. "I'm confident I'll be able to transfer between the two."

The prohibitive costs of the two projects is estimated to run between $14,000 and $20,000.

MacKeigan launched a Go Fund Me request that has drawn $1,660 in donations for his project but, with just a month to go before surgery, he's getting nervous.

Still, he's faced bigger obstacles in the past.

When MacKeigan was born in Brantford, his condition was a surprise to his parents and the infant was quickly airlifted to Sick Kids in Toronto.

His prognosis wasn't good but his parents brought him home and made innumerable trips to the hospital over the years.

By the time he was 11, MacKeigan had been through more than a dozen surgeries, including installing a shunt in his brain, hip procedures and closing an opening at the base of his spine.

Then there were the major foot rotations.

A passion for work became evident early and MacKeigan began jobs at his family's car lot right out of high school. After that business closed, he picked up a wide variety of jobs from data entry to a stint as a 911 dispatcher in Ottawa after finishing a course at Mohawk College.

That job ended quickly thanks to a need for more surgery to replace his brain shunt.

He's used a talent for scroll saw artistry to keep himself busy and recently relaunched his hobby as a business.

"In my first three months in business I gave everything away! It's a terrible business plan and I don't recommend it."

"I did paw-print ornaments for the SPCA and wooden moustaches for Movember and other fundraisers. But my business started to grow through word of mouth and I built a client base."

Today MacKeigan has sponsorship agreements with saw and blade manufacturers and does shows and festivals all around Ontario.

"I'm not trying to abuse the system by asking for help, I'm just looking for what I need for now, not what I want or would like to have. I'm grateful for whatever help I can get."

MacKeigan has worked to put his request out to social media with the hashtag #NewLegToStandOn and his Go Fund Me page can be found at www.gofundme.com/newlegtostandon.