Luut Schellekens

"Someone with a leg prosthesis ís not pathetic"

"My prosthetist was pretty conservative: what works that works, and we'll keep it that way," says Luut Schellekens. She was born with a shortened right leg. 'And I don't like that conservative. I was looking for someone who wanted to think with me and try new techniques. That's how I ended up at the Prosthesis Festival in 2021.'

The 35-year-old Venetian - born with a shortened right leg and thus a prosthesis user all her life - got into a conversation with prosthesis maker Frank Jol and Edwin Spee of the Mentelity Foundation at the Prothesefestival, took part in some sports clinics with Team Para Athletics and noticed: much more is possible than she knew at the time. "I had been playing sports intensively for a few years, but still had a rather simple prosthesis, which was not sports-oriented. Frank actually makes prosthetics that fit a higher level of activity, so I ended up with him in the Re-abled-project. First a week, to fit my prosthesis completely to my needs. Every day he would tinker a little bit, I would go to work with the physio and work out. To see what went well, what didn't, and what needed to be adjusted."

Whereas she used to have a socket that chafed in her groin during exercise, the socket that Frank Jol fitted her with is much shorter and so the chafing is a thing of the past. "But most importantly, I have to learn to walk differently," she says. "For the first time in my life, I have to use muscles in my right leg that I have never used before. My walking pattern has to change and my leg has to get stronger. I'm queen at compensating, always got all the power from my back, or from my torso, but then I suffer from that again. I am working with Frank's team to determine what exercises are needed to train the leg so that I do run well."

"I want to learn to see my prosthesis as a strength and something positive instead of an obstacle."

Luut now has a prosthesis with which she can also play sports. A real sports prosthesis is in the planning, but first her leg has to get stronger and she has to be able to walk well with her daily prosthesis. Moreover: the sports prosthesis is not covered by her insurance, so financing is also a challenge. Still, the Limburg native doesn't want to complain: "I notice that the Re-Abled project looks at more than just your prosthesis or tool that you use. They also look at how you handle the device, both physically and mentally. Through manual and physical therapy, but also mental counseling." In addition, Luut feels that her needs are now better listened to. "They really look at me as a person instead of it being about the technique of a prosthesis." She hopes the counseling will teach her to look at herself and her prosthesis differently. "I want to learn to see it as a strength and something positive instead of an obstacle or burden. Now I just want to learn to move and walk as well as I can on a prosthesis that is suitable for that." 

Whether there is anything left to be desired? Perhaps. Luut explains, "My previous prosthesis had a cover of flesh-colored foam, which made it more like a real bone. Now my socket is black and there is no cover over it. On the one hand, it is immediately obvious that it is a prosthesis, but it is also confronting at times. I look down and then see an iron rod instead of two calves. Maybe I just have to get used to it - though I'll always keep looking for new, better techniques.'

What she believes is also important is for stories like hers to be told. "I want to do the same in a podcast for and by leg prosthesis users, with the goal of showing others what is possible; to break the taboo around prosthetics. Too often prosthetics are still linked by "the general public" to people who are old, disabled and therefore pathetic. I want to show and hear that this absolutely does not have to be the case.

Text: Robin Wubben
Photos: Mathilde Dusol