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The Associated Press: Supreme Court rejects limits on drug lawsuits
Court upholds award to woman who lost her arm to a drug.
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Monday, March 2, 2009
Helena Peoples wears a stars-and-stripes patterned prosthetic brace on her left leg.
No big deal to her.
"Occasionally someone asks, 'What happened to your leg?' I say I was born with only one bone," said the 13-year-old Belleville girl, sitting on a cushy living room couch. "The brace helps me walk straight instead of walking on my ankle bone."
The below-the-knee brace also makes it a snap to roller skate and play basketball -- two of her favorite pastimes.
Helena is a 5-foot-6 guard on West Junior High's eighth-grade girls' team. She's No. 22.
"I like twos," she said, her hair braided in neat cornrows then gathered into a ponytail.
Practicing before a Thursday night game, she was a bundle of energy, sometimes working dance steps into her repertoire as she waited to do practice drills. No problem going up for a layup or leaping for a rebound.
On the sideline, she chewed gum, drank blue Gatorade, clapped, cheered for teammates and jumped up when the Westerners scored. The game against Emge was a seesaw battle that Emge pulled out at the end.
Helena played a few minutes of the second quarter, then sat down alongside Coach John Boente, who was also her PE teacher at Abraham Lincoln Grade School.
"Until basketball season in sixth grade, I didn't know she had a brace on her leg," Boente said earlier. "She did PE every week. I didn't know until she was wearing shorts."
No. 22 runs as fast as teammates.
"Even on the basketball team, she has no limitations. And she nevers uses her leg as an excuse to get out of wind sprints.
"She's got personality. She gets along fine. She's just a typical eighth-grade girl."
Helena wasn't on the team last year because she missed a deadline for a physical. Learning plays this year is a challenge.
"You can tell she's played at home or on the playground," said her coach. "Her skills aren't very far behind. Getting in organized basketball is helping her. She plays guard, handles the ball well. ... She's a good player."
Twenty girls tried out for the team. He kept 11.
"My wife, Amie, coached her in sixth grade. Everybody plays. In seventh and eighth grade, you play to win the game. We prepare them for high school. That's my job."
Helena's mom, Heaunitia Peoples, considers it her job to cheer for her daughter.
She and Helena's 84-year-old grandma, Helen Holman, nestle into the crowded stands for all the games. They're among her biggest fans, on and off the court.
"The day she was born, the doctor told me she had no bones in her foot," said Heaunitia, a divorced mother of four who runs a house-cleaning business. "We usually have 26. They said it was possible she would never walk. They suggested a prosthesis."
Heaunitia took her youngest child to Shriners Hospital when Helena was a month old.
"What was really terrifying, I saw some with a club foot walking with a walker or crutches. I thought that was going to happen to her."
Helena was fitted with her first prosthesis at about five months, and began walking before she was a year old.
"Every Friday night, she goes roller skating," her proud mom said. "I really didn't think she would be able to do those things. When she started walking, I was happy about that.
"When she was 3, I got her a bike. She rode just like any kid. No, she never complains."
Every year, Helena gets a new prosthetic at Shriners Hospital or at Prosthetic and Orthotic Care Inc. in Fairview Heights. The Symes-type prosthesis, which costs about $10,000, has a panel on the side with two straps that wrap around her lower leg. Helena puts on a two-ply soft sock that wicks away moisture, then slides her leg in, closes the panel and locks it into place. One bolt holds the whole system together.
Jon Wilson, a prosthetist and orthotist at P&O, saw her for the first time when she was an infant.
"She was tiny. We try to fit as soon as sitting balance is achieved. That means they're going to start crawling. It incorporates it into their self image. It's important they accept it as being part of their body. ... Her mom deserves a lot of credit. She's always gotten her here when there's a problem."
Because the brace fits so well, Helena forgets about it.
"As long as she maintains her weight and keeps exercising," Wilson said, "she shouldn't have any problems."
She's doing good with what she has, her mom said. "Her tissues are still soft in her foot. The bone is strong. It holds her up."
Besides school and sports, Helena already has a job of sorts.
"We have a cleaning business together and she helps me sometimes on Saturdays, and Sundays after church," said Heaunitia. "She's good at making beds, vacuuming and cleaning baseboards."
"I think it's a little waste of my weekends," said Helena, who still finds time to shop with friends, go to dinner or play basketball with her dad, Anthony, and complete school work.
For a science project, she chose birth defects as her topic.
Hers doesn't slow her down.
"That's how God made me," said Helena, spinning a basketball on her finger. "So that's the way I am."
Family: Mom Heaunitia, Dad Anthony Peoples; Grandma Helen Holman; one sister and four brothers
Besides basketball: "I like to dance. I like hip-hop music."
Favorite class: Social studies
School activity: Ladies of Distinction, a group that teaches etiquetteFavorite food: "Mashed potatoes and gravy. There's gotta be gravy."
Favorite TV: "That's So Raven" and "Hannah Montana" on the Disney Channel
When she was little: Mom entered her in beauty pageantsWhat she wants to be: A professional dancer