Paralympian Amy Purdy Dances with the Stars

When Paralympian Amy Purdy steps out on the dance floor on the season premier of Dancing with the Stars tonight, she’ll be stepping out on two prosthetic legs. The 34-yr-old, who is teamed up with professional dancer Derek Hough, is a double amputee who just won a bronze metal in the Sochi Paralympics for snowboard cross.

Purdy became an amputee at the age of 19, when she came down with a severe case of meningococcal  meningitis, a bacterial infection of the coverings which surround the brain. Originally she thought she was getting the flu, but as she told ESPN:

“When you have the flu, you think, ‘I feel like I’m dying,’ but this was different. I saw my face in the mirror, my hands and feet were turning grey, and I just knew something was horribly, horribly wrong.”

Shortly after arriving in the emergency room, she went into septic shock and cardiac arrest. Amy was put into a medically induced coma on life support while doctors scrambled to find out what was the cause.  She was given a 2% chance of survival.

Septic shock caused a decreased blood supply to her legs, which eventually lead to their amputation just below the knee. This drop in blood flow also caused her kidneys to fail. After a year on dialysis, she received a kidney transplant, with her father donating one of his own kidneys.

Purdy spent  3 months in the hospital learning how to walk on prosthetic legs. She was always an avid snowboarder, and getting back on a snowboard was one of her ultimate goals. She accomplished that goal 11 months after her surgery, and even began to snowboard competitively.

She and boyfriend, Daniel Gale, co-founded the non-profit organization, Adaptive Action Sports, to help individuals with physical disabilities who want to get involved in action sports such as snowboarding, skateboarding, and surfing. In 2012, Purdy and Gale participated on the 21st season of The Amazing Race. They were the second team eliminated.

Purdy prides herself as being kind of a “mechanical geek.” She has become quite adept at changing around the mechanisms on her prosthetics to adapt them to what she needs to do with them. Of course, she’s been working on her dancing legs “I have an adjustable high-heel foot,” she explains, that can go up to 2.5 inches.

Amy and Derek practiced their routines for DWTS during breaks between training and competing in Sochi. She quickly realized that her regular walking legs would not work for dancing because:

“My calf muscles were wanting to expand, but they couldn’t because they’re in carbon fiber. So it was painful. I thought, ‘This can’t happen, or I’m not going to be able to do this.'”

But fortunately, there was a prosthetic shop at the Sochi Paralympics which was able to adjust the legs so that they could expand while dancing.

For those of you who would like to be further inspired by Amy Purdy, click here to see her TEDx talk. As she told the audience:

“My legs haven’t disabled me. If anything they’ve enabled me: They’ve forced me to rely on my imagination and to believe in the possibilities.”

DWTS has had several celebrity contestants who have dealt with a variety of disabilities/illnesses:

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is an illness in which the body has a severe response to bacteria or other germs.  An overwhelming response by the immune system to infection releases many immune chemicals into the blood. Although these chemicals are designed to combat the infection, they also trigger widespread inflammation. Inflammation leads to blood clots and leaky blood vessels, and can cause damage to many organ systems.


What is septic shock?

In severe cases of sepsis, one or more organs fail. In the worst cases, blood pressure drops, the heart weakens and the patient spirals toward septic shock. Septic shock is a serious condition that occurs when an overwhelming infection leads to life-threatening low blood pressure. Once this happens, multiple organs—lungs, kidneys, liver—may quickly fail and the patient can die.

What causes sepsis/septic shock?

Sepsis does not arise on its own. It stems from another medical condition such as an infection in the lungs, urinary tract, skin, abdomen (such as appendicitis) or other part of the body. Invasive medical procedures like the insertion of a vascular catheter can introduce bacteria into the bloodstream and bring on the condition.

Many different types of microbes can cause sepsis, including bacteria, fungi and viruses, but bacteria are the most common culprits. Severe cases often result from a body-wide infection that spreads through the bloodstream, but sepsis can also stem from a localized infection.

Who is at risk for sepsis?

Anyone can get sepsis, but people with weakened immune systems, children, infants and the elderly are most vulnerable. People with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, AIDS, cancer and kidney or liver disease are also at increased risk, as are those who have experienced a severe burn or physical trauma.

Every year, severe sepsis strikes about 750,000 Americans. It’s been estimated that between 28 and 50 percent of these people die—far more than the number of U.S. deaths from prostate cancer, breast cancer and AIDS combined.

The number of sepsis cases per year has been on the rise in the United States. This may be due to an aging population, the increased longevity of people with chronic diseases, the spread of antibiotic-resistant organisms, an upsurge in invasive procedures and broader use of immunosuppressive and chemotherapeutic agents.

What are the symptoms of sepsis?

Common symptoms of sepsis are fever, chills, rapid breathing and heart rate, rash, confusion and disorientation. Many of these symptoms, such as fever and difficulty breathing, mimic other conditions, making sepsis hard to diagnose in its early stages.

Symptoms of septic shock include:

  • Cool, pale arms and legs
  • High or very low temperature, chills
  • Lightheadedness
  • Little or no urine
  • Low blood pressure, especially when standing
  • Palpitations
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Restlessness, agitation, lethargy, or confusion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Skin rash or discoloration

How is sepsis treated?

People with sepsis are usually treated in hospital intensive care units. Doctors try to quell the infection, sustain the vital organs and prevent a drop in blood pressure.

The first step is often treatment with broad-spectrum antibiotics, medicines that kill many types of bacteria. Once lab tests identify the infectious agent, doctors can select medicine that specifically targets the microbe. Many patients receive oxygen and intravenous fluids to maintain normal blood oxygen levels and blood pressure.

Depending on the patient’s status, other types of treatment, such as mechanical ventilation or kidney dialysis, may be necessary. Sometimes, surgery is required to clear a local site of infection.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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