PEI

'My shining moment': This Island woman is building her mother's leg

In her six years as a prosthetic technician, Alyson Clow has helped build hundreds of new legs for amputees. But the one she's working on right now has her feeling more pressure than ever. The leg is for her mother.

'I need to get this perfect ... for my mother'

Prosthetic technician Alyson Clow works on part of the leg in her workshop in Charlottetown. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

In her six years as a prosthetic technician, Alyson Clow has helped build hundreds of new legs for amputees. But the one she's working on right now has her feeling more pressure than ever. 

"I need to get this perfect, and have it go out the door [looking as] best as it possibly can for my mother," Clow said, laughing.  

Her mom, Juliana Elsinga, can't help but chuckle either. "It's pretty neat. I don't think very many people can say that their daughter has made them a leg," she said. 

Prosthetic technician Alyson Clow looks over a part of the leg with her mother Juliana Elsinga. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Not that it's a coincidence. Were it not for her mom, Clow said she likely wouldn't be building limbs for a living. And if not for her daughter, Elsinga said she may not have made the decision to have an amputation. 

Inspiration from pain

In 2004, Elsinga slipped on black ice and badly damaged her left leg below the knee. For years, she battled through pain and multiple surgeries. 

In 2010, she made an appointment at a clinic to get fitted for a brace. 

Clow, an undergrad at the time, was looking for some career inspiration and went along. 

She said she was immediately interested in what she saw at that clinic. "Later that month I think, I got accepted [into a program] and I was on my way to becoming a technician."

Elsinga says she has many prosthetic legs but is excited to have one that looks like a real leg. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

After a couple years of training, Clow got a job in B.C., and began convincing her mother she should consider getting her lower leg amputated, which would allow her to use a prosthetic. 

"During that time my situation was just degrading," said Elsinga. "So through my daughter's work and her experience and her boss that she worked with, with their help, I made a decision that this could be a really good outcome for me."

'A leg that looks normal'

Elsinga said it was the right decision. She went through with the amputation in 2015, and got her first prosthetic leg shortly after.  

She now has a few legs — all of which work well — but don't quite look like a real leg. 

Clow discusses the fit of the prosthetic leg with her mother during a fitting. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

"So it would just be nice in some circumstances to have a leg that looks normal, like when you're getting dressed up to go to a function or something like that," Elsinga said. "Because people try not to stare but they still do. So it would be nice sometimes just to blend in a little more."

'I made her a leg. I win!'

Enter Elsinga's daughter.

Last summer Clow found a job in Charlottetown and moved home. She said she'd long wanted to help build her mom the perfect leg. And now with the move home, it was possible. 

She said it's a gift no one else in her family can top.

"Being the middle child, I was always striving as a kid to be noticed. So, this is kind of like my shining moment here. I made her a leg. I win," she joked. 

Elsinga says that even if her new leg looks real, she will be quick to proudly tell people that her daughter made it for her. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Elsinga admits, while the goal is to finally have a leg that draws no attention, parental pride may stand in the way of that. 

"Oh probably, every time, I'll be like 'My daughter made me this leg!' Definitely, people will know."

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About the Author

Steve Bruce

Video journalist

Steve Bruce is a video journalist with CBC P.E.I. He landed on the Island in 2009, after stints with CBC in Fredericton, St. John's, Toronto and Vancouver. He grew up in Corner Brook, N.L.

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