April 3rd, 2019 | Published in Amputee Stories
College student Ashley Turner balances two jobs, a music major at the University of Houston, a busy social schedule including multiple activities as a member of Alpha Chi Omega sorority, singing in the university choir, attending various athletic events, involvement in family life, and “just hanging out with my friends.”
What’s missing from this picture?
Not even the three limbs this 19-year-old dynamo was born without.
A familiar figure at Muilenburg Prosthetics since she was four, outgoing and upbeat Ashley has prosthetists who see to her every need. Ted Muilenburg, CP, customizes her myoelectric left arm.
The younger daughter of Laura and Bill Turner of Seabrook, Ashley has a 21-year-old sister, Staci, who attends Texas Tech in Lubbock. Ashley was born missing three limbs – her left leg at the hip, her right leg above the knee, and her left arm at the elbow. The Turners lived in Florida when Ashley was a toddler and began receiving prosthetic care from the Shriner’s Hospital for Crippled Children. After the family moved to Houston, she continued to obtain services through the Shriner’s organization in Texas.
Ashley wears two endoskeletal prostheses – a left hip disarticulation and a right above knee. Both are fitted with Otto Bock safety knees with extension assist, and SACH feet. Ashley’s forearm crutches provide added stability and keep Ted Muilenburg busy doing adaptations to her myoelectric hand. Unfazed, Ted is all for his patient’s up-tempo lifestyle.
“A worn-out prosthesis is a good prosthesis,” he notes. “I’ve made special modifications to all of her hands – they take a beating from using the crutches. I exchange the aluminum wrist parts and fingers for ones made of stainless steel for greater strength. A friend of mine is a machinist and he custom-makes all the parts I need to reinforce her hand and wrist.
Ashley remembers her earliest passive arms and the days when her parents carried her everywhere since she wasn’t evaluated for prosthetic legs until age four. She wore a prosthetic arm with a mechanical hand and cosmetic cover until approximately three years ago when Ted designed and fit her first myoelectric limb.
“Ashley was a former Shriner’s post child – a cute little girl. And she was lucky to have parents who encouraged her to do everything. They had a special wheelchair modified so that Ashley could get up into the mountains – and she was a cheerleader, too,” Ted said.
Understandably proud of both of her daughters, Laura Turner terms the younger as “pretty neat!” And she credits the strength of the relationship between husband and wife as helping the Turners cope with the realities of their child’s birth defects.
“When Ashley was a little girl, I can recall telling a friend that I was more concerned about Staci than I was about Ashley because Ashley was always the attention-grabber. My friend thought I was ‘nuts’ until she noticed it too. But Staci is terrific. She has always been – and still is – very proud of her younger sister,” Laura added.
Ashley is far too occupied with the present and the future to worry about disabilities or limitations. Gifted with a beautiful voice, she has done well in numerous vocal competitions since she was a child. Further, she plans a career in music education, possibly as a choral director. In the summer, she does childcare, chauffeuring a 12-year-old to his many activities, and on weekends she works at the front desk of a downtown Houston condominium, a job she continues through the school year. A great sports fan, Ashley enjoys watching basketball and soccer, and she formerly coached her high school swim team.
“Nobody ever made a big deal about my limb absence – it was never an issue. So, I guess I never felt that I was different,” Ashley explained. “I don’t know what my parents did,” she laughed, “but it seems to have turned out okay.”