Double amputee canoes down Mississippi River with help from Mary Free Bed


GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan — Nate Denofre has just returned from an unforgettable trip.

“We started in Minnesota in early May in the blizzard and finished right after two hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico 109 days later,” says Nate, who canoed up Mississippi with his wife, Christa, and their dog. .

Sections of the journey were smooth, but those lengths were surpassed by the challenges. The storms he mentioned – the scorching sun that clearly left its mark at the end in the south – at the beginning isolating the north.

“It’s remote, and being from the Upper Peninsula, I’m used to nature in the woods,” says Nate, “but it was a bit of a test for me.”

It’s a test for anyone – an epic quest for a man with no legs – when sometimes he has to get out and push.

“I have to go out, put on my prostheses, adjust them. But if there’s a lot of mud, I can’t wear prostheses because often I’m going to take a step, my prosthesis could be in the mud like a foot behind me “, explains Nate. “So I just have to adjust my surface weight and crawl.”

Nate lost his legs at birth – a double amputee just above the knee. He lived his life like that.

Suddenly looking at the full length of the Mississippi becomes less daunting.

“Amputations absolutely hold you back and it takes us sometimes, you know, 25 minutes, half an hour, to do a five-minute job,” Nate says. “I mean, not having a body part is one thing, but for your mind to catch up with it to adapt like another…so, it’s still a struggle in my opinion.

It’s been a constant struggle throughout a lifetime of challenges for this Yooper, who has been in Grand Rapids since he was 9 1/2 months old.

“I made my trip here for the first time at Mary Free Bed and got my first pair of prostheses and have been here ever since.”

Nate has gone through countless prosthetics over the years. Given his adventures, you can see why.

“Every foot he’s ever had has been destroyed,” Devin says, “so that’s kind of the number one goal of ‘Okay, what can I provide for him that hopefully lasts a little longer longer than he’s had in the past?'”

This time, the team at Mary Free Bed hopes it will be different – and we get a behind-the-scenes look at the process of making Nate’s new and improved prosthetics – all of which can happen in the hallway of the same building.

“It’s pretty rare to have therapy and the whole hospital here is rare,” Devin says.

From initial layouts, molding and grinding, to design – selected by Nate himself.

“Our techs will transfer the lineup, laminate everything, then finish everything smooth – make sure everything is smooth – give it back to us, and we’ll deliver.”

It starts with a painting and ends with the moment of truth.

“Hopefully everything goes well and they leave happy,” Devin says.

They call it Delivery Day, when Nate can jump out of the chair ready to tackle the next adventure. Although his adventure buddy may have other ideas.

“We can start by helping downstairs and doing the laundry,” explains his wife, Christa. She’s seen Nate’s determination firsthand, and while the prosthetics help, her mindset sets the tone.

“He’s one of those people who can come up with a plan and figure out how to achieve it and then implement it,” says Christa, “and that’s something you don’t see very often.”

Meanwhile, many of us who have full limbs and haven’t lived half the struggle have only lived half the life.

But where does Nate’s motivation come from?

“I don’t know. I think it’s coming from within,” Nate said. I do not know. But for me, it definitely comes from within.”

A little extra bounce in her step from Mary Free Bed certainly helps.

Nate and Christa then plan to go canoeing down the Missouri River. Christa plans to put their travels in a boot titled Love much, trust little, but always paddle your own canoe.

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