Katrina victim receives new prosthetic leg

March 6, 2008 1:04:27 PM PST
A victim of Hurricane Katrina is in Philadelphia this week, getting an important boost to her health.

Erica Gonzales of St. Bernard, Louisiana, is taking her first steps with a new prosthetic leg, that's a gift from Dave Lawall, of Lawall Prosthetics, his suppliers - and some Habitat for Humanity volunteers.

Erica and 34 members of her extended family fled Katrina's fury in a pair of travel trailers, and couldn't get back for a long time.

As she pages through pictures, she explains, "It was ages till we could even go back to the house.. By the time we were able to get back in, mold had taken over everything."

Habitat volunteers like Jeanne Doucette, formerly of Philadelphia's Overbrook section, helped rebuild the house.

But they noticed Erica's artificial leg didn't work very well.

Doucette, remembering her cousin's two prosthetic legs, connected Erica with the Lawall company.

David Lawall says, " When I heard Erica's story, I thought - we're on board with this. If a small company up here in Philadelphia can help somebody down there, we're all onboard."

He spoke with suppliers, who donated some materials. When he heard Erica didn't have the money for the airfare to Philadelphia, Lawall donated that.

Doucette, and a group of musician friends, also held a fundraiser to help defray the costs. All in all, Lawall estimates the cost at $18-19,000.

Technicians are creating the new leg in just one week - a process that would normally take about 2 and a half weeks. And it will have features her old prosthetic didn't have.

Lawall says, "She will be able to move at different speeds and different cadences. The foot we're giving her is a flexible foot that will adjust to uneven ground."

Erica said this will change her life. "I'll be able to get around much better."

Asked how she feels about this gift, she says, "It's very hard to describe because nobody has ever done anything like this before. They are helping total strangers."

Jeanne says she and her Habitat volunters are just returning favor, "She was just really kind to all of us. She was in a trailer across the street, and would come out every day and give us fried fish when her husband caught something... or she'd bring ice cold gatorade."

Erica leaves for Louisiana at the end of the week.


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