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Personalities: A Downhill Battle

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It would take a lot to one-up Jason Lalla, ABC certified prosthetist. After losing his left leg above the knee in a motorcycle accident in 1989—just two weeks after his high school graduation—the New Hampshire-native's hockey coach provided some special equipment so Lalla could try downhill skiing. Nine years later, Lalla won a gold medal in the giant slalom at the Nagano Paralympics. After bringing home silver and bronze medals in the 2002 games in Salt Lake City, he retired from competitive skiing and went back to school to specialize in prosthetics. He now works at Next Step Orthotics and Prosthetics in Manchester, NH.

On his emotional connection with patients: When I walk in to speak with somebody, a lot of times if I'm wearing pants people don't even realize that I'm missing a leg. Even that realization is a very positive one for a person because they've realized this person is standing here and is missing a leg and they didn't even know it. It comforts them to know they won't be a big sore thumb in the crowd.

On how his injury complements his work: When you design a prosthesis you have a catalog to choose bits and parts from and I can test 90% of them. I can walk on them, I can try things out—and I do.

On how his outlook has changed: Initially when I got into the industry, because I considered myself young and athletic I thought those were the kind of people I would want to work with. But early on I ended up working with a woman who was in her late 80s, and she was able to get up and walk. She was just so happy to be able to go out in the community and be able to resume her lifestyle. It was powerful to realize . . . that the most simple desire is just to walk.

On how healthcare reform may affect the prosthetics industry: So much of the positive outcomes we have are related to technology and advancements and even in the componentry—if that gets limited, if someone decides they're going to cut costs by limiting what people are able to get through their insurance, then certainly that would deal a huge blow to the industry.

Marianne Aiello

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