It was a mouthful to pronounce and a huge amount of bad news for a young teenager to absorb.
Metastatic osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer. That was the bad-news diagnosis Erin Deegan heard from her doctor in September 1999 at the age of 13.
The cancer had taken root behind the kneecap of her right leg and had spread to both lungs, she recalled.
“In January of 2000, I had my leg amputated above the knee and I had bone surgery and I was on chemotherapy throughout the whole time.”
The cancer went into remission in the summer of 2000, then she relapsed and started treatment again in early 2002 to rid her lungs of additional tumors. The cancer has been in remission ever since.
Now, at age 29, Deegan is somewhat amazed to find herself as a model for a company that is part of a new wave in prosthetic leg coverings.
Later this month, she’ll be flown to Tucson, Arizona, by UNYQ, a San Francisco-based company with a worldwide clientele. She’ll take part in a photo shoot, modeling the company’s wares and will be at the company’s booth at the Amputee Coalition of America conference July 23-25 in Tucson.
UNYQ markets a variety of colorful and stylish 3-D printed coverings for above-the-knee and below-the-knee prosthetic legs. Made of layers of strong polymer, they snap onto a prosthetic leg.
“Basically, the cover goes over your prosthetic limb. It’s made to be able to show your personality,” said Deegan. “You can choose from what they have or you can custom design different kinds of covers. It also gives [visual] symmetry to your leg because usually it’s just a pole or some sort of metal knee,” Deegan said.
She was just fitted Wednesday with a UNYQ covering for her C-leg Ottobock prosthetic leg, increasing the stylish factor of her artificial limb by quite a few notches.
“The one I’m getting is black and silver and it looks kind of like a stormtrooper from ‘Star Wars,’” she said, laughing.
For an active, above-the-knee amputee like Deegan, the UNYQ covering will also provide some welcome protection for her expensive prosthetic limb, which features a computerized knee and a microprocessor inside it that adjusts to her particular walking speed.
The knee itself cost “several grand,” Deegan said. “I can walk down the stairs regularly with it and it really helps me walk properly. I walk like a normal person,” she said.
She seems not to have let having a prosthetic limb slow her down. Her prosthetic leg without the new UNYQ cover is a road map of her rambunctiousness.
“It’s all dinged up because I’m rough on my legs. I go hiking and all that stuff, so I scrape it on rocks,” she said.
Deegan, who was born in Cross Lanes and graduated from Nitro High School, went on to earn a degree from Marshall University, then a master’s degree from the University of Charleston in forensic accounting. She works for the West Virginia Public Service Commission as a utilities analyst, doing accounting and auditing.
Things have come a long way in the field of prosthetic limbs since she tried on her first one as a teenager.
“Once upon a time, I started out basically with a hinge on a pole, as a knee. And now I have a computerized leg that I have to plug into a wall at night. So it’s all very awesome,” she said.
She landed her UNYQ prosthetic modeling gig in the most modern of fashions. “Originally, I started following this company on Instagram because I saw some model I knew on Instagram — someone I thought was cool because they were missing a leg and they were doing modeling kind of stuff. They were wearing one of the covers from this company.”
She noted from the company’s Instagram account that UNYQ would be attending some prosthetic conferences. Her prosthetist, Chet Burdette of Mountain State Prosthetics, was going to be at one of them, she recalled. “And I said, ‘Hey, could you get me some information about these covers, because they look really cool.’”
And sure enough he did.
“Somehow that ended up with me getting in touch with the company because they needed more female models, because a lot of the current amputees have been males coming back from the war. So they were trying to get more diversity with the people who are displaying their product.”
Deegan said she also is pleased to be able to be a model for others either coming to terms with having lost a limb or wishing to express themselves with the new line of colorful prosthetic coverings.
“These are very different from the trend I had seen when I was a teenager, where everyone wanted prosthetic covers that looked like legs, that looked skin tone,” she said.
“I’ve seen in recent years people are more interested in expressing their personality by having a favorite color or some sort of design that really shows off who they are and shows they’re proud to have overcome having a limb amputated.”
Walking around her daily life with a stormtrooper-cool leg covering is a far cry from what she was like as a teenager.
“For me, I was always worried about what people thought about me when I was younger. At this point in time, I really don’t care anymore,” Deegan said.
“But when I was younger and when I was meeting newer people in college, I was always concerned that they would be judging me because my leg wasn’t a real leg. So I spent a long time in my teenage years trying to hide it. I wore blue jeans all the time and long skirts that went down to the floor. For a while, I tried to have a cosmetic cover that looked like skin.”
Now, later this month, she’ll head to the Arizona desert for a photo shoot to model her stylish new leg covering, possibly for a global audience.
“From there, I think the photos will wind up being used in their advertising and social media and possibly in their catalogs. This company does stuff worldwide,” she said.
“So, it’s really a pretty crazy experience for me. If somebody would’ve told me when I was a teenager that, ‘Hey, when you’re almost 30 you’re going to be flown across the country to have pictures taken of you for a company,’ I would’ve laughed in somebody’s face. I would’ve told them they were absolutely crazy.
“I had a lot of confidence issues as a teenager, as most teenagers do. But I had a little additional level of confidence issues because I was missing a limb. So, this is really amazing that this opportunity has arisen for me.”
Reach Douglas Imbrogno at email@example.com or 304-638-9784.