My Beautiful MomFor as long as I can remember, I have loved clothes.  I love getting new clothes.  I love wearing new clothes. And I love the thrill of mixing old favorites and creating new looks.  All of this, I attribute to one person:  my mom.

Growing up in a large family with a mother who was a costume-quality designer and seamstress herself; my mom developed an early knack for fashion, sewing, and re-purposing hand-me-downs, long before it was Etsy-chic to do so.   She designed and re-purposed her own promdress, the likes of which were similar to fashions only seen on the big screen.  She designed and sewed her own wedding dress, with painstaking detail to the placement of every seed pearl from the bodice to the hemline.   And for as long as I can recall, she has lovingly designed and sewn my clothes, with some of our fondest memories spent in her sewing room.

Unfortutately, the sewing gene stopped with me.  Although I seriously lack her engineer-worthy seamstress skills, I did get a teensy-weensy bit of her creativity and can devise ideas for certain garments; describe them to her; and then, marvel at her ability to translate the ideas into actual articles of clothing.

As subsequent posts will feature some of our creations, from what I have coined the “KarLes Collection” (taking substantial liberty in morphing a catchy name, with her name being Carol and mine), a blog about my love of fashion would be incomplete without basis for my fondness. Here’s to my mom-may she always be crafty!

As someone who is a victim to fashion, I am equally a victim to comfort.  So,  when I was AOPA’s trade show last week-end and discovered this new line of Silipos GeLuscious products, my creature-comfort interest was beyond piqued.

Silipos?  I know you’re curious about it, aren’t you. They are an American company that manufactures silicone products primarily indicated for the orthopedic medicine market but everyone should know about Silipos because they manufacture medical-grade silicone gel that cure a thousand ills (and then some).  Personally, I absolutely LOVE Silipos for the one product that I have used for years:  their adhesive gel squares.  One little piece of it provides hours of much-needed relief and allows me to walk pain-free for hours and miles, on end.  But they’re not only good for me as I can imagine the wonders they’d work for people dealing with bony prominences, bone spurs, or similar orthopedic-related issues.  Seriously, these things are little silicone gel pieces of heaven so much so that  keep extra supplies in my suitcase when I travel the world.

Brandeburg Gate, BerlinIn fact, I discovered just how fabulously multi-functional these things were when I was on a recent trip to Berlin.  Although I know better, I decided to wear some relatively new boots while traveling across the pond and hoofing through Schipol.  And by the time I got to my hotel room in Berlin,  I had developed one of those, I-know-I-shouldn’t-have-have-worn-those-boots blisters.  You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?

With the next day being my only day to explore before my work-week began and it Otto Bock Science Center, Berlinbeing my first time to Berlin, I desperately wanted to explore the city.  While band-aids weren’t doing anything to help reduce the nauseating blister pain, I immediately thought to try a piece of the extra Silipos that I had in my travel-kit.  Prepped with pain-numbing Neosporin (another travel-kit mainstay, by the way), I carefully taped the Silipos pad on my heel; donned my well-worn Tod’s walking shoes; borrowed an walking-stick type umbrella; and set off to see the sights of Berlin.

American Sector, BerlinAnd low and behold, it worked!  It didn’t completely relieve the pain but it do so enough that I was able to spend the next 4-5 hours walking from the Brandenburg gate to Check Point Charlie to the remains of the Berlin Wall, albeit with the use of a hop-on-hop-off bus.

Check-Point Charlie, Berlin

So, knowing how well the Silipos pads worked for my blister, I was THRILLED to see these little ditties: the GeLuscious Heelmate pads.  Of course, I already put a packet in my travel-kit and am ready to set off on my next adventure knowing that, should I need them, they’ll do the trick.

Sometimes, being fashionable really means being functional and comfortable, at the same time doesn’t it?       530999_3364845771679_923101186_n

TSALast week brought me to Washington, D.C. to speak at a conference for the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) about improving their airport screening processes for people with limb loss.  With what started as a letter to the Amputee Coalition and to AOPA,   resulted in me being personally invited to speak at TSA’s conferences and in TSA removing CastScope screening devices at every U.S. airport-the very objects that initially ignited me to write this letter.  Now, four years later, I am humbled and honored to know my words brought attention to an unjust issue and ultimately improved the experiences of people.  So, here’s to advocating for the good; believing that goodness will prevail; and accepting opportunities to share your voice.

My Words…

All: Since I don’t know how to best get the message across, I am sending this email to all in the hope that its message can somehow be disseminated. Last Friday while departing from the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, I experienced one of the worst TSA experiences of my life and hope that sharing it prevents others from being in the same situation. I have been an amputee for 34 years and am a frequent air traveler, both domestically and internationally. In my customary manner of approaching TSA check-points, I told the TSA representative about my prosthetic limb, entered the first check-point, waited in the holding area until a female TSA agent was available for the additional screening, and removed my non-prosthetic shoe when seated. When asked by the female agent as to why I did not remove my shoes when going through the initial check-point, I informed her about my prosthetic leg and that walking on tile floors without shoes was difficult because of their slippery surface and potentially put me at risk of falling. She raised her voice, changed her tone, and said, “Listen to me. I will tell you to remove your shoe when I am ready.” She proceeded to tell me about the necessity to wand me, run a test on my “prosthetic”, and pat-down any areas triggering an alarm. After the gas chromatographer alarmed, she asked her supervisor to come to the area and proceeded to tell the supervisor about the sequence of events. Though their backs were turned, they were within hearing distance and I heard the supervisor say that the machine likely alarmed since they failed to conduct the device quality assurance check that morning. Nonetheless, three people returned to where I was sitting and informed me that I would have to undergo an “x-ray” because “something” caused the machine to alarm. When I asked about the type of x-ray, what it was, the reason for it, and how long it would take, the supervisor informed me that they employ a device called CastScope. Though I was not informed about its functionality at the time, I have since learned that the TSA has started using CastScope devices in certain airports as a means of better visualizing the internal components and chambers of prosthetic devices (http://www.tsa.gov/approach/tech/castscope.shtm). Again, I asked if having a prosthetic limb precipitated the necessity for undergoing this testing and was informed that all persons with prosthetic limbs are required to do this. As I had flown out of the same airport only five weeks earlier, I asked how long the device had been in place and was told that this airport has used CastScope for nearly six months and that I should expect to undergo the testing with all future travel. Finally, I was told that signage about the device and procedure is posted on the outside of the TSA screening area.

Without being told where I was going or that I could have my husband accompany me, I was led to a small room containing the device with two of the female agents. In the room, I was told to stand by the “x-ray” so they could take what turned out to be a series of 10 images. When I asked about the amount of exposure to radiation, whether I would be offered a lead apron to protect my nonprosthetic side, and why I hadn’t been asked about pregnancy status, one agent responded that “pregnant women work here and use the device all the time.” While my questions were obviously irritating the two agents, I explained that I was trying to understand my risks and wanted to better understand what I was about to undergo. They told me to stand atop 5 or 6 un-secured, stacked storage bins that were face down on the carpet, and without a safety rail. After seeing its instability, I told them I could not stand on the box and was offered a seat. After approximately 15 minutes of being scanned by the device that continually bumped my nonprosthetic knee, shin, and foot, I was told I could go. When I asked about the images and the privacy thereof, I was informed that they were instantaneously destroyed, yet I saw no evidence of that occurring. During the course of the scanning, one of the agents said, “For all I know, you could be hiding explosives in your toothpaste or in your prosthetic” and this is how “we make sure your plane won’t go down”.

While I consider myself a seasoned amputee, Friday’s experience brought me to tears for the inequity that I experienced because of having a prosthetic leg. For this reason, I am compelled to share this story and to be the voice of what others may have experienced but did not know how to tell it or describe how it felt. Now, through the objectivity that only time affords, I can better see how the entire experience illustrates the potential physical risks that people are being exposed to and the disrespectful manner in which people are being treated. While I was able to raise my concerns and refuse to stand on inverted plastic boxes, I could not help thinking about elderly persons whose risk of falls is magnified by the use of their prosthetic devices or are silenced because of fear of reprisal. Though I knew that I could not verbally defend myself against the TSA agents’ defamatory statements, I knew that I would not let the situation stand since my inaction only leads to the perpetuation of inappropriate behavior and comments. As a frequent air traveler, I respect the work of the TSA to promote safety and always comply with their screening efforts. It is for this reason that I hope that this situation raises the issues as a means of solving them in a manner that is both sensitive to amputees and safe for the general public. Thank you.DCA

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Recent travel has afforded me with time to catch up on reading articles I’d previously relegated to my “to-do” list. And in doing so, I read about a study (citations omitted) that revealed the powerful benefits, both physical and psychological, of positive thinking. Along with decreasing the sequalae of misdirected anger, the study described the health benefits of optimism including decreased heart disease and anxiety. It further described what I believe to be true: that by maintaining a positive outlook on life, the hard times will be lessened and the good times will be enhanced.