KALISPELL, Mont. — Kalispell resident Ian Reynolds walks with a bounce in his step that reflects the exuberance of his attitude toward life. The video game character Mario smiles up from his prosthetic calf and foot.
A prosthetic/orthotic technician, Reynolds created his custom look by laminating a Mario T-shirt onto the socket of his prosthesis.
"I was looking for something fun," he said.
His upbeat attitude comes from pursuing a career that meshes with his passion for helping people and his artistic aptitude. It was a sparkler accident that changed his life, along with a choice few people can even imagine.
"I chose to have my right foot removed," Reynolds said. "For me, it really wasn't that big a decision."
In the end, his foot amputation took his life in a whole new direction, working with Kendall and Gina Carpenter at Glacier Prosthetic Care fabricating prosthetics and orthodics. As a snowboarder, mountain biker and climber and cliff jumper, Reynolds has a passion for assisting other amputees to live the life of their dreams.
Reynolds, 24, considers the sparkler bomb accident leading to his amputation a part of God's plan for him.
"I had to learn from all my mistakes," he said. "It happened for a reason for sure."
A native of Whitefish, Reynolds graduated in 2006. Shortly afterward, he and his friends were celebrating the Fourth of July, cruising the back roads when they decided to play a prank by putting a sparkler bomb in a mailbox.
Reynolds was nominated to put the bundle of sparklers into the mailbox. He slid it into the box, then turned to jump back into the vehicle.
"It pre-ignited and I took shrapnel in the behind," he said with a sheepish laugh. "It severed my sciatic nerve which controls flexion and extension of my ankle and also feeling in my foot."
He also had damage to his hamstring muscles in which two of the three nerves atrophied. After the accident, he couldn't feel or flex his foot, resulting in a condition called drop foot (or foot drop) where the foot felt like dead weight.
For two years, Reynolds got along with a device called an ankle/foot orthosis that braced his foot into a normal position.
"It kept me from tripping over my foot," he said. "I could snowboard well but it just wasn't the same."
The problem was the orthosis provided no return or push off compared to a prosthetic foot that returns 95 percent of the energy applied to it. Reynolds described the orthosis as walking on a wood plank or plastic shell.
After watching the athleticism of amputees with prosthetic feet, he opted to have his foot removed on July 21, 2008, by orthopedic surgeon Dr. Timothy Dumontier at Kalispell Regional Medical Center.
Reynolds was working for Kalispell Art Casting at the time, performing a variety of duties including applying patina to sculptures. After the surgery, he couldn't wait to get back on track with his job and his active outdoor life.
He had to heal for three months before getting fitted for a foot a local prosthetics business. Reynolds returned several times for adjustments as he tried to adapt to the new prosthesis.
"I was seeing a lot of issues," he said. "I was getting a lot of pressure sores."
After a time, Reynolds said he discovered Glacier Prosthetic Care on North Meridian Road. He decided to seek a second opinion on the problems he was experiencing.
He said that in time the other business may have achieved a good fit with the original socket.
"I think everything happens for a reason," Reynolds said. "The reason it wasn't working is I needed to meet the other practitioner in town which is Kendall Carpenter."
He said Kendall and his wife Gina blessed his life. He bonded with the couple who let him hang out at the shop to get acquainted with their work.
Reynolds was impressed and decided to let Kendall tackle his problems with a new socket.
"The socket is the most important part of the device," he said. "If you don't have a comfortable fitting socket, you're kind of out of luck."
Reynolds said he has watched Kendall take on other difficult cases as a challenge and finally give those clients a comfortable fit. He explained his own device attaches with a pin, but some others need more complex suspension systems.
"He does amazing work for amazing people," he said.
Reynolds said he loved being around Kendall and helping him with small things at his shop. He said he always enjoyed working with his hands and jumped at the opportunity to work a few days a week at Glacier Prosthetic Care while still working three days a week at Kalispell Art Casting.
After observing his natural ability, Kendall suggested that Reynolds get training to become a technician and then come back and work for him.
"I was going to school at the time — FVCC — trying to figure out what to do with my life."
The more he worked with Kendall, the more he loved the field. Reynolds said it changed his whole perspective on life, realizing how a person could make such a difference in people's lives.
Reynolds got on a waiting list for a prosthetic/orthotic technician program at Spokane Falls Community College. In the spring of 2009, he started the program.
"The first year was orthodics — I loved orthodics. I learned so much," he said. "The second year was prosthetics. At the time I was shooting down and helping Kendall with a little work on random weekends."
Reynolds graduated with honors last summer with his mom and boss in attendance. He thoroughly enjoyed studying in Spokane.
"I met some amputees that I peer-visited with," he said. "I really enjoyed that. It turned me on more and more and I just wanted to help more and more, to be someone who can show someone the how-to if you're an amputee."
Reynolds now wears a Renegade Freedom Foot with his own custom-designed sole that allows him to forego wearing a shoe.
"I do this for my swimming activities. I run with this foot. It's maintenance-free when I go swimming. I go cliff jumping, rock climbing, mountain biking. I'll repel off bridges with my harness," he said. "I've pushed everything to the limit. I'm actually designing a rock-climbing foot."
He works full time at Glacier Prosthetic Care as the lead technician with Kendall overseeing all his work. He made the socket for his Renegade as well as a handful of other sockets along with foot orthodics.
The company also makes neck braces, back braces, wrist splints — whatever a patient needs from head to toe. Reynolds said he doesn't mind working late and long hours.
He said feels so lucky to be working for Kendall and helping people who need their devices for a better life.
"It isn't a job to me," he said. "It's creating something beautiful for someone beautiful."
Information from: Daily Inter Lake, http://www.dailyinterlake.com