By Alyce Collins
THIS GYMNAST threw her leg a ‘farewell’ party after her cheerleading dreams were shattered by a debilitating condition which after SIXTEEN surgeries led to her leg being AMPUTATED.
Exercise physiologist and physician assistant, Christina Godfrey Hurley (34) from Dallas, USA, was always fascinated with sport while growing up and had a strong love for cheerleading and CrossFit, having been a competitive cheerleader and cheerleading coach.
In 2013 Tina began noticing heaviness in her legs, pain in her calves and numbness in her feet which all became increasingly worse and led to Tina wanting to get her leg checked by doctors.
Doctors diagnosed Tina with popliteal artery entrapment syndrome (PAES), a rare condition in which the muscle and tendons near the knee compress the popliteal artery which runs through the knee. The condition causes limited blood flow to the lower leg and damages the artery.
Following her diagnosis, Tina underwent 13 surgeries to try and decrease the impact of the condition before having three amputations since 2016.
In July 2016, Tina went through with her first amputation below the knee because she could no longer climb stairs or walk 20 feet. In the days before her amputation Tina threw a ‘farewell foot party’ to celebrate the next stage in her life.
Despite suffering wounds on her stump and recurrent infections leading to revisions of the amputation, Tina has become more grateful for everything that she has and has become a public speaker about the opportunities available for disabled people.
Now, Tina isn’t fazed by being an amputee and has taken up adaptive CrossFit, even winning the title of ‘fittest female seated adaptive athlete’ in July 2018.
“I grew up as a gymnast and switched to competitive cheerleading during school,” said Tina.
“I coached and choreographed cheerleading and was a tumbling instructor throughout my schooling.
“I soon started getting symptoms of exertional leg heaviness with pain in my calves and foot numbness with walking which all became progressively more debilitating.
“When doctors told me I had PAES I was in disbelief and I was really fearful. They believe that it is congenital, but it is very rare and understudied.
“The treatment I had for the condition was surgical intervention which involved three debulking procedures which tried to take things out of the back of my lower leg to relieve the entrapment, but these were all unsuccessful.
“Doctors couldn’t figure out the exact area of entrapment to debulk properly. They even tried stimulation pads to no avail.
“I had five vascular bypasses using a vein from my right arm and my left leg, but they all failed because they were compromised by intimal hyperplasia, which is the scar formation. That only happens in one out of three cases.
“I was ready for the amputation when it came around. I even threw a farewell foot party that a lot of people in the community came to. I couldn’t get up a flight of stairs, walk 20 feet and I lived on chronic pain medication.
“I was ready to make a change to improve my quality of life. I never knew how long my road to recovery would be though.
“My amputation was originally July 2016 but needed to be repeated in March 2017 and October 2018 due to poor healing as a result of compromised blood flow.
“I had a large wound on my stump after my first amputation from a fall in the hospital that killed most of the tissue at the end of my stump. I had a bone protruding wound with recurrent infection until the revision eight months after.”
Although the condition has turned Tina’s whole career and lifestyle upside down, she has now learned to be grateful for what she has in her life and what the condition has taught her about herself.
Just two months after her first amputation, Tina competed in a 5K race, dividing her time on the course between crutches and her wheelchair.
Tina will have to have her right leg amputated also as she has the same disease in that leg, meaning the blood flow is significantly compromised which causes pain.
“At first it created an identity struggle and significant change to my life,” said Tina.
“I didn’t know who Tina was without fitness. I was lost, scared and in pain for years. PAES, through the hardship and loss, has also gifted me a purpose to relate to and help others. I can now understand and love myself more deeply.
“It forced an improved perspective of life and a heightened gratitude for the little things. I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. I’m surrounded by wonderful people and involved in a network of resilient people with disabilities who inspire me every day. I seek to add value to the world instead of just to myself now.
“I have had many public speaking engagements, podcast interviews and opportunities to advocate for folks with disabilities across the US.”
Tina now tries many amputee sports, including CrossFit, wake-surfing, archery, rock-climbing and gymnastics, all with her prosthetic limb.
You can follow Tina’s journey by visiting @tinah214.