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news News Thursday, December 19, 2019 Thursday, December 19, 2019 12:26 PM - Thursday, December 19, 2019 12:26 PM

World champion gold medalist swimmer

Amputation does not define Mikaela’s abilities

World champion gold medalist swimmer

When she was 8 months old, Mikaela underwent an amputation on her left leg. The surgery took place at Shriners Healthcare for Children — Florida and was performed by pediatric orthopaedic surgeon Kenneth Guidera, M.D.

“We had to make a very difficult decision; limb lengthening or amputation,” said Jen, Mikaela’s mom. “It was a very challenging season for us as parents.” Mikaela was born with left proximal femoral focal deficiency, a rare birth defect that caused her left leg to be shorter than the right leg.

Today, Mikaela is a typical 16-year-old girl who is learning to drive and loves hanging out with her friends. She is also a world champion swimmer, winning the gold medal in the 100-meter butterfly S10 at the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships in London this past September. She currently has her sights set on making the Paralympic swimming team next summer and performing on the big stage in Tokyo as she represents the USA. (Okay, so maybe she is not exactly your typical 16-year-old, being a world champion and all!)

“It was such an honor to walk away from my first World Championships a world champion with a gold and two silver medals,” said Mikaela. “My next step is to reach the Tokyo Paralympic Games in 2020 and includes training hard the rest of the year and swimming my heart out at Para Trials in June.”

Mikaela’s family moved around quite a bit when she was younger before finally settling down in Evansville, Indiana, which is when her parents decided to move her medical care to Shriners Hospitals for Children Medical Center — Lexington with Janet Walker, M.D. pediatric orthopaedic surgeon. “Dr. Walker is very down-to-earth and laid back, which makes me trust her as a surgeon. She is very smart and has always cared for me in the best way possible,” said Mikaela.

In December of 2015, Dr. Walker performed a procedure that permanently fused the growth plate of Mikaela’s left leg to delay growth in the long bone of the leg, which allowed the shorter left leg to stay the same length as the right leg. This surgical procedure prevented leg length discrepancy and knock-knees from happening.

“I have always had to work extra hard to keep up with my able-bodied peers. With swimming, I have had to adapt training to fit my specific needs,” Mikaela said. “I would encourage other amputees to keep finding new ways to break barriers, and just because they have a disability doesn’t mean they aren’t on the same level as their friends or family.”

Mikaela was 8 when she tried out for the swim team after her best friend convinced her to join. She immediately fell in love with the sport and started dreaming about competing on the Olympic stage one day.

“The training process has been extremely difficult from waking up at 4 a.m. for morning practices, to swimming doubles throughout the week, on top of weight training and staying on top of my school work,” Mikaela said.

Mikaela has also been vigilant about staying on top of her medical care. She received her first prosthetic leg on her first year birthday and since then has received 13 prosthetic legs as she has grown and her mobility needs have changed. The prosthetic legs are all custom designed by Pediatric Orthotic and Prosthetic Services – Midwest, LLC, at the Lexington Shriners Medical Center.

While Mikaela waits for 2020 to arrive, she will continue to compete in a variety of swimming competitions as she works to perfect her times and become as fast as possible. Tokyo here we come!

Mikaela in swimsuit with US flagMikaela