“If you’re comfortable with yourself, people will be comfortable with you. After a period of time, people you interact with frequently won’t even think about your amputation.”
Susan Schmidt has the distinction of being the youngest amputee ever fitted with a prosthesis in Alabama.
She was born with a black spot on the bottom of her foot, which was later diagnosed as ongenital osteogenic sarcoma. When she was just 4 days old, her leg was amputated above the knee and she received her first leg six months later.
That was 60 years ago, and she still reflects on what made her successful as an early amputee.
“I am so thankful for my parents!” Susan said. “They knew just what to do to make me be an independent, confident child. When I fell and everyone wanted to jump up and help me, my dad would say, ‘No. Stay in your seat. She’s ok. She’ll get up by herself.’ And I did.”
Her parents did many things to help normalize her childhood, including building a 12-foot flat walking ramp with parallel bars to practice walking.
“Our hound dog, Brownie, made sure no one played on it but me,” she said. “He was my protector, making sure to walk between me and the wall heater in the hallway so I wouldn’t burn myself and pushing me with his nose if he felt I was getting too close to the edge of the couch when I napped.”
Additionally, she said she was included in all the same activities as her sister, from roller skating to swimming to biking to water skiing.
“They made me feel normal,” she said. “I dated, graduated from college, married a wonderful man and had a very successful business career.”
She was later able to pass this sense of normalcy onto others. In her early 20s, she taught a girl who had “differences.” 30 years later, that person reached out to Susan to thank her for showing that it was ok to be different and for giving her self-confidence.
“A sense of humor is a must for a life of joy,” she said. “No one can go through life without experiencing embarrassing moments […] I think if you gathered my friends through the years and recorded their memories of me, we could do a standup comedy routine on Broadway.”
The most defining moment of her life came when she wanted to attend the same college as her older sister—only to have her sister advise against it.
“She told me that my whole life I’d been ‘Angie’s little sister.’ It was time to go be Susan,” she said. “So off I went to Belmont University. I blossomed like a flower. I was class favorite all four years, was Miss Belmont my senior year, had a ball of fun and made lifelong friends. I’ll be forever grateful for her advice.”
Susan first met Matt Bulow when he was a young college student working at another facility, trying to decide if working in prosthetics was a career he wanted to pursue. She was impressed with him even back then. A close friend of hers had become a prosthetist in Nashville and later Atlanta and had kept up with Matt’s career. When Susan’s prosthetist of 25-plus years passed away, she gave Matt a call.
“After meeting with Matt and the team at Bulow, I knew this was the place I wanted to be,” she said.
In her free time, she enjoys reading, taking long rides in the country and listening to a wide variety of music. When she retires, she wants to volunteer with an animal shelter. A perfect day to her includes rising early, going for a walk, taking a long soak in the tub while reading a book and heading out for an adventure in the countryside. Susan’s friends would describe her as “fun, hard-working, diligent, tenacious, loyal and just a little crazy.”
Susan’s advice to other amputees is that the people around you will take their cues from you.
“If you’re comfortable with yourself, people will be comfortable with you,” she said. “After a period of time, people you interact with frequently won’t even think about your amputation. They will look at you as a whole person and not even ‘see’ the amputation any more. And now for the parting thought: You WILL be remembered, so make sure it is for something good.”