Most people have to adjust their clothes when they lose weight. Junior Jackson had to adjust his legs.
In the past two years, Jackson estimates that he has replaced the socket of his prosthetic left leg three or four times because he has lost about 120 pounds in that span. Despite going to school several hours away at Valdosta State, the 20-year-old travels to Atlanta for each replacement and adjustment at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Orthotics and Prosthetics Program.
Jackson has a long history with Children’s, but his story begins in New York, where he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, at age 4. His doctors were forced to amputate his left leg above the knee about a year later. Jackson has been using a prosthesis for most of his life.
He moved with his family to Georgia in 1999 and first came to Children’s in 2000. Jackson received the usual prosthetic adjustments and replacements that came with growing.
But he also had to receive several new prostheses because he kept breaking them. He broke the ankle of his prosthetic leg when he was chasing his cousin, and he snapped a metal pylon while playing basketball.
“It isn’t supposed to be that way,” he said. “I was rough on them. The people at Children’s taught me how to walk and get used to each one.”
Much of the problem came from Junior’s size. By age 10, he weighed 150 pounds and he spent many of his teenage years at or above 250 pounds.
During his freshman year at Valdosta State, Jackson dedicated himself to getting fit. By doing so, he has lost more than 100 pounds in just over a year and has completely transformed his life.
“I have a regimen now,” he said. “I had to change my eating habits–I cut out carbs completely. Girls tell me I’m cuter now, so the benefits outweigh the consequences.”
An unexpected result of his weight loss was the inability to fit into his prosthetic leg. Jackson said that it sometimes fit so poorly that he was basically carrying the leg with a strap attached to his waist.
A short walk to class became a painful experience for the quickly shrinking Jackson. When he had to get a replacement, he didn’t hesitate to make the three-hour drive back to Children’s.
He still works with the same team made up of Physical Therapist Colleen Coulter, Senior Prosthetist Brian Giavedoni and Clinical Assistant Robin Cavender when he comes back to Atlanta, even though he is approaching his 21st birthday.
“They are like my family,” Jackson said. “Brian talked to me about my career options. Robin is so sweet and helpful. Colleen is like my mom. I met her family and had so much fun with them.”
Jackson has been with Children’s for more than a decade and doesn’t plan on losing touch with those he has grown so close to. He has other options for treatment closer to home but prefers to make the drive back to Atlanta.
“Everybody knows Junior,” Giavedoni said. “We really get to know our kids. We see them roughly every three or four months. They become part of our family.”
The Orthotics and Prosthetics Program is one of the few at Children’s that has no age limit. Jackson can be a patient with Children’s as long as he wants to.
“We are able to follow our patients well into adulthood,” Coulter said.
Now that he has reached a comfortable and healthy weight, Jackson likely has a leg and socket that will last him considerably longer than a few months.
Jackson is in his second year at Valdosta State and is majoring in accounting. He already has enough credits to be considered a junior. His long-term goal is to be a politician, a recommendation made to him by Giavedoni.
“It’s cool to have goals and dreams,” Jackson said. “I don’t want to lose sight of my goals.”