Ronnie Dickson battled through another soccer practice. Two hours of
pain trumped only by his love of the game. He would return home from practice
at night knowing the next morning would yield inevitable pain. Some days, he
would be unable to walk. Despite suffering from Trevor’s disease, a
congenital bone development disorder, Dickson was deeply involved in sports
including basketball, swimming and biking. But his passion was soccer. As
competitive and determined as Dickson was, the pain was becoming intolerable.
The surgeries were not helping. Rehabilitation did not improve his condition
— Dickson’s knee and ankle had fused straight due to the development
of massive bone tumors in the back of his left leg. More procedures were an
option, but they were far from a solution. Just days before he turned 18 years
old, Dickson made the decision to have his left leg amputated.
Dickson believes he underwent as many as 15 procedures – including
limb-lengthening surgery – to repair his leg prior to his amputation. He
and his family had researched every avenue, but the facts were right in front
|Ronnie Dickson has entered the
field of O&P and is a prosthetic resident at Prosthetics and Orthotics
|Image: Prosthetics and Orthotics
“It did not take a rocket scientist to figure out that there was
just no way that we were going to be able to make that leg work even with
multiple surgeries,” Dickson explained to O&P Business
News. “And when I say ‘work’ I understood that I was
never going to have a normal leg no matter what at that point. There was
nothing normal there to salvage.”
He weighed his options. Ultimately, the decision was not an especially
difficult one to make, according to Dickson.
“It was either countless surgeries with no guarantee for success or
get rid of it all and start over fresh,” he said. “I didn’t know
much about prosthetics at the time, but I did know they would give me a better
quality of life.”
The decision was easy for Dickson, but lying in his hospital bed at
Shriners Hospital moments before losing his leg, Dickson was nervous and
leaning on the support from his friends and family. The morning of the
amputation, he was on the phone with one of his best friends.
“I was truly scared,” Dickson admitted. “You get wrapped
up in this decision and everything is fine but when it is there right in front
of you it can be really tough. But I knew that and I was ready for it. I knew
it was a decision I had to make for myself.”
Throughout the countless surgeries Dickson underwent as a child, his
parents were always there for support and guidance. Although he was too young
to make decisions regarding the patient care process, Dickson was always
consulted and he had the ability to ask questions and voice his own concerns.
By the time he was about to turn 18 years old, his parents understood that the
decision was his alone.
“Naturally as a parent you don’t want to see your child lose a
limb,” Dickson explained. “But they fully supported my decision.
Although I made the decision on my own, they completely backed me.”
His friends supported him as well. In fact, the day Dickson came home
from the hospital he was greeted with a surprise birthday party. Unfortunately,
he does not remember much of it.
“I was pretty sedated,” he laughed. “But for the first
month when I was in bed, my friends would always stop by to see me. After that,
I was on crutches and then I began to live the life I wanted to live.”
Dickson grew up on a lake in Winter Haven, Fla. Before he could even
drive, he would go to his friend’s houses and ride jet skis. After his
amputation, Dickson continued this ritual and would go down to Orlando for the
night to celebrate.
“Some people may see me dancing with my crutches as an awkward
situation, but I was comfortable with who I was and the situation I was going
through,” he said. “If I am comfortable, other people pick up on that
and it is not awkward for them either.”
In September 2005, Dickson was fitted with his first prosthesis. He
decided to stay home and attend community college. Dickson called the year at
home an opportunity to make sense of the transition period of his life.
Although soccer was his passion, the amputation forced him to leave that sport
behind. He was working out nearly everyday and had friends who lived in his
hometown, but Dickson still felt a void.
“My personal life was great, but competitively I felt sort of
strange,” he said. “I was not actively involved in anything. My
competitive juices were there, but they were dormant for a while.”
Boost of confidence
The next year, Dickson attended the University of South Florida. In the
summer of 2007, while sitting in his prosthetists office flipping through a
magazine, Dickson saw an advertisement for the
Extremity Games 2, which was being held in nearby Orlando.
“I was looking through all of the events and they looked like a lot
of fun,” he said. “I saw rock climbing and I was immediately
That same week, Dickson found an indoor facility where he could train
and was hooked.
“Rock climbing has played a pivotal role in my
life,” he explained. “It brought my confidence back, made me
competitive again and gave me something I truly enjoy doing.”
According to Dickson, his best competition finish was second place in
the Intermediate Division at American Bouldering Series Nationals this past
year. Dickson has competed against able-bodied individuals in various
competitions finishing 15th overall among 40 non-disabled competitors at the
Tampa Bouldering Series. His goal is to scale some of the most challenging
mountains an amputee has ever climbed.
“Rock climbing is the perfect metaphor for amputees,” he said.
“You know you are going to fall but you have to always get up.”
Currently, Dickson speaks with local amputees. He is an advocate with
Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) and hopes to be Amputee
Coalition of America (Amputee Coalition) peer certified. He is also helping
other amputees climb. This past summer he was a youth counselor at the Amputee
Coaltion youth camp. He created an adaptive climbing clinic at the Endeavor
Games and hosted a climbing clinic in Tampa, Fla.
“For me, it was about getting to hang around the right group of
individuals,” he explained. “People always gave me huge support but
also pushed me. I can not take full credit for any of the accomplishments I
have made. None of it has been alone. It all comes with the support of many
Patient to practitioner
Dickson has chosen to stay in the O&P field and is currently
pursuing a career as a prosthetist. Now 23 years old, he is finishing his
prosthetic residency for Prosthetics and Orthotics Associates in Orlando. His
residency director, Stan Patterson, CP was also Dickson’s prosthetist.
Patterson recognized that he may have more than just a patient in his waiting
“You see that a lot in this field,” Patterson explained to
O&P Business News. “Ronnie was that perfect age. He was being
fitted and at the same time he was maturing and thinking about his future. Many
times, the hardest thing for an amputee to do is to become a good prosthetist.
They may think ‘well, this works for me so it will work for you too.’
It can be hard for prosthetists who are amputees to understand that not
everyone fits in that same box. But Ronnie has that compassion.”
Patterson’s office specializes in lower extremity amputees and they
work with mostly young, active patients. According to Patterson, Dickson has
the ability to relate to his patients and the patients can relate to him as
“When he was around as a patient, he was never involved in just his
care,” Patterson explained. “He would watch other patients whether
they were a special operations soldier going back to Iraq or a person who was
going to go back to wakeboarding. He was always trying to find solutions.”
According to Patterson, there are people in the field who would describe
being an O&P practitioner as being a fulfilling job. But there are also
individuals who want to further the development of patient care.
“Ronnie is the type of person who not only wants to take himself to
the next level but he wants to improve the field and push those limits,”
Patterson concluded. — by Anthony Calabro