When you talk to Brandon Burke about his life growing up, the now
18-year-old college student modestly describes himself as athletic before
explaining the laundry list of activities at which he has excelled. Football,
baseball, basketball, soccer, wrestling, he says occupied him in the early
years. Then, he explains, he became interested in action sports like
snowboarding, skateboarding and surfing. This was all before high school where
he focused mostly on his first love, football and his more recent passion,
In May 2007, while participating in that first love, everything began to
That May, Burke had what appeared to be an injury.
“I was at spring practice for football and I got hit just below my
knee by somebody else’s knee-cap and right then I knew something was
wrong,” Burke, then a sophomore in high school, told O&P
Business News. “I thought maybe it was a bruised bone and I tried
playing through the pain until it got to the point where I couldn’t walk
|Burke, in his search for
information before his amputation, met Ksiaskiewicz to talk about his future
|Images: Brandon Burke|
Recognizing the true depth of the injury, Burke did not further delay
medical assistance. Following an MRI, Burke’s physician diagnosed him with
a stress fracture and bone edema. Unfortunately he was wrong.
“About 2 months later, I went back and they looked at a
[radiograph] and they could see this time it was a tumor,” he said.
As it turns out, the tumor was cancerous. He was diagnosed with
Ewing’s Sarcoma in November 2007.
Still, he has few regrets and does not point fingers about his treatment
and diagnosis – a great attitude for him to have for the long road to
“Hindsight is 20/20. I wish I had been less stubborn and really
pursued an answer to my injury,” he said. “But once you get to that
point, you really can’t look at what you should have done. You can only
look at what has to be done now.”
Amputation, though considered, was not the first course of action for
Burke’s treatment. Instead, he underwent a left knee replacement in March
“I had a cadaver bone for my tibia and … after about 4 months
of walking on it, the stem that went into my cadaver bone broke due to a
manufacturer recall,” Burke said. “I went through surgery and finally
it got to the point where they weren’t going to be able to fix it.”
One full year following the initial diagnosis, Burke made the decision
to undergo a transfemoral amputation.
“I’d been talked out of having it amputated a bunch of times
before but finally I wanted the amputation,” he said. “After
everything I’d been through, an amputation compared to having limited
mobility really wasn’t that big of a difference. An amputation was the
last step that would allow me to get back on track.”
Burke found himself in a position that many soon-to-be amputees do not.
He knew it was coming and made the most of his time to research and prepare.
“Whenever I do something I always make sure that I research
everything about it … so I am prepared when I have to make a
decision,” he said.
To aid in his efforts, he made an appointment with Joe Ksiaskiewicz, CPO
at the Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics East Stroudsburg, Pa. office.
“Brandon set up an appointment in March of last year to talk about
options for prosthetic componentry and actually when I went out to meet him in
the reception area I saw a guy sitting there with both legs. Then he explained
the story,” Ksiaskiewicz said. “He came in to speak with me to get
some ideas about his future. He researched. He did his homework but it’s
confusing to gather all of that information.”
|Ksiaskiewicz and Burke worked
together until they got everything set for his snowboarding debut with his new
knee on December 23.
Burke also reached out to Paralympic athletes to put him at ease with
his decision and seek out their recommendations about components.
“I saw what the people who were making the most out of their
disability were doing. I never intended for it to stop me from living the
lifestyle that I wanted to so it was nice to see examples of other people who
have done it before,” he said. “Knowing that people have done it
makes it a less daunting task.”
On July 27, 2009, Burke underwent his amputation surgery.
A week after the amputation, Ksiaskiewicz said that Burke came back into
his office to continue their conversation and in August, they began working on
his new prosthesis.
“He started out with a microprocessor knee and was athletic,
coordinated, had great family support and I knew he would be a good
candidate,” Ksiaskiewicz said explaining that on day 1, Burke was up and
Burke is not the only one who found joy in that East Stroudsburg office
“It’s a different ballgame working with young, athletic
kids,” Ksiaskiewicz said. “They come in and they want to get back to
their normal activities but they understand that it is going to be different
with the prosthesis. We have to educate them. It is a great feeling to see them
get back as close as possible to their original activities.”
Back on the slopes
At the end of December 2009, after more than 2 years away from
snowboarding and yet less than 5 months since his amputation, Burke was
determined to get back on the slopes — an early gift to himself.
“It was December 23. We had our Christmas tree set up in our office
and there was Brandon in our reception area,” Ksiaskiewicz said. “We
were strapping his ski boots and his snowboard on and setting the angles for
his snowboard in front of the tree in the office.”
That night, Burke felt the snow beneath his board again.
“I was really excited. I didn’t know how it was going to be. I
didn’t know how well I was going to be able to adjust and how long it
would take … if it would be like learning to snowboard all over
again,” Burke said. “It went surprisingly well.”
Burke also had the support of his friends and family pushing him to
“Generally people’s parents don’t want them to get hurt
but they knew that I was getting back to what I loved,” he said.
“From the start, Joe and everybody who works with him at the office
were attentive to my needs and my concerns,” Burke said. “When I was
going through the process of ordering my leg, I changed my mind a few times and
they were patient with me and helped to make sure I got the leg that I was
going to be happy with. That was a key thing.”
The power of a good working relationship was not lost on Ksiaskiewicz.
He left this experience with the greatest reward.
“I love being able to do that and just be a part of it. I [work
with] prosthetics all day but it is rewarding and when you get a kid who has
this much ambition and drive,” he said. “I’m just a helper. I
change the angles on the knee. I change the resistance on the shock absorber
and the spring action. I change the different dimensions of the prosthesis just
to match what he wants to do. It’s a great feeling.”
Burke especially appreciated the selflessness of Ksiaskiewicz and the
staff at the office for staying until 6:00 p.m. on the night before Christmas
Eve so he could get back on the slopes.
He is moving a lot faster than I ever expected,” Ksiaskiewicz said.
“I expected big things from him but he far surpassed those
expectations.” — by Jennifer Hoydicz