If there is one thing that frustrates me the most about having spina bifida, it is the fact that I have to wear leg braces. It is often hard to find shoes that I like that will fit over my braces. It is especially difficult when the orthotist (the person who makes said braces) gets it in his head that he should redesign the braces that you wear to put “less stress on your knees.” However, that is the situation that I found myself in a few years ago when I had my last set of braces made.
Growing up I had braces in all shapes and sizes. Some of these had buckles in places that made finding a decent shoe next to impossible. Despite this it seems as if I have always been able to make the situation work, no matter the style of braces that have been made for me. For years I used to go to Keller Orthotics. They are located in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. This is an area of Chicago that I spent a lot of time in while I growing up, as Children’s Memorial Hospital used to be located in this section of the city. It is a neighborhood rich in history, especially during the years of the Great Depression when Chicago was ruled by the likes of Al Capone, Lester “Baby Face” Nelson, and John Dillinger. In fact, just down the street, a block or so from Keller Orthotics, is where John Dillinger was gunned down. It was in an alleyway just outside the Biograph Theater that this event took place in 1934. I remember passing this same alleyway numerous times, as my parents and I made our way to the brace shop for yet another fitting.
Keller’s was, and still is a family-owned shop, where I spent a few hours each year as a child. As a growing boy I needed to get new leg braces fairly often. My orthopedic doctor always referred me to Keller’s, as they were a shop that worked with Children’s Memorial to create orthopedic accessories for children who needed them. Peter Keller was the owner of the shop when I was growing up. He has since passed away. I remember him as a gregarious man with a fairly, thick German accent who always showed a genuine concern for those children with whom he worked. His shop turned out quality products that would last until it was time for a new pair. I think one of things I remember most about going in to Keller’s were the various autographed pictures of Chicago Blackhawks hockey players that adorned the walls of the examination rooms of the clinic. The picture of the late, great Stan Mikita was my favorite. He is one of the most legendary players that ever laced up a pair of skates for the Blackhawks. Stan’s name is one that figures prominently in the movie “Wayne’s World,” which stars Mike Myers and Dana Carvey.
Keller’s made my leg braces until I was in my early teens. Around the age of 17 I stopped going to Children’s Memorial, as I was no longer a child. Therefore, I had to rely on various other shops that were closer to home to make my braces. This is when things began to take a turn for the worse. My orthopedic doctor here in town began to refer me to other orthotists that were not as skilled in the art of making leg braces. However, there was nothing much that I could do about that, as traveling to Chicago to have my braces made was no longer an option.
Therefore, I had to begin settling for second-rate shops that made braces that were of less quality than those made by Keller Orthotics. This is especially true for the current pair of braces that I have. As noted above, I had very little say in the design of my latest braces. That is why I now am wearing a pair that literally have boot heels. How is a person supposed to find a decent pair of shoes when the leg braces they are wearing have a boot heel that juts out from the bottom? I am now relegated to wearing “old man” tennis shoes such as New Balance. Hopefully, one day soon I will find a shop that will listen to my input and make a pair of braces that suits my tastes. Until then I am stuck with my boot heel braces. Maybe, if I get a pair of bell-bottomed pants I can start a fashion trend amongst the disabled community. Boot heels and bell-bottoms might become the craze with those of forced to wear leg braces. I might just start a “Saturday Night Spina Bifida Fever.” Watch out John Travolta, here I come!