Ukrainian soldier taking it one step at a time

Ukrainian soldier taking it one step at a time

Updated: 13 days, 9 hours, 49 minutes, 43 seconds ago

Editor’s note: This is a follow-up story on 24-year-old Ukrainian soldier Andrii Chersak, who recently received a prosthetic thanks to the help of local nonprofit Limbs for Liberty.

Andrii Chersak received a second chance at life. Now, he has a second chance to learn to walk again.

Chersak, a 24-year-old amputated Ukrainian soldier, received his prosthetic leg on Jan. 13. The first Ukrainian amputee to be sponsored by local nonprofit Limbs for Liberty, Chersak first tried out his prosthetic leg four days earlier for a test run at the Hanger Clinic with his prosthetist Jeff Retallack. Later that week, Chersak’s prosthetic leg was adjusted to fit perfectly.

Retallack said that the socket, where the residual limb connects with the prosthetic, creates an airtight seal to make sure it stays put all day. Once the liner is placed on the residual limb, it gets sprayed with rubbing alcohol to slide in easier. Chersak then places his residual limb into the socket while letting air escape through the suction valve. Retallack said that it is the valve that creates the airtight seal and ensures that the prosthetic only comes off when it needs to.

“He’s making huge strides, he is doing much better than last time,” Retallack said during the Jan. 13 appointment.

He said that Chersak has significantly improved walking during his second appointment. Chersak analyzed the way he walked in front of a mirror. But he also looked into the mirror with pure joy.

Chersak was laughing and cracking jokes, once looking in the mirror and joking that he “looks like the Terminator.” He was striking poses for Limbs for Liberty volunteers in the room and said that he cannot wait to be able to run around again.

Limbs for Liberty President Kelli Rohrig said that the whole situation felt unreal. The nonprofit brought him to Colorado for the prosthetic, and now he finally had it. Irena Rastello, who works with Limbs for Liberty, said that she was overwhelmed with joy and that Chersak was making great improvements walking.

Before the prosthetic leg, Chersak was using crutches to walk around, so being able to walk with two legs again was a great feeling but also presented a huge learning curve. Retallack said that while the prosthetic is the instrument used to walk again, it is truly Chersak’s ambition and determination that is doing most of the work. This is especially true considering Chersak has an above-the-knee amputation, which Retallack said can be more complex to navigate.

Rastello said that receiving the prosthetic was a bittersweet moment for Chersak. While it gives him the chance to walk again, it also solidified the fact that he will never have his leg again and that he will need a prosthetic or mobility aid for the rest of his life.

“He is super stoked to have his leg, but then there was also a realization that this is not your leg, it’s just a piece of metal,” Rastello said.

Chersak shared that the prosthetic leg does not feel like his own, and relearning to walk comes with a lot of growing pains. Chersak can only wear the prosthetic for a few hours a day and can eventually build up to wearing it most of the time. This ensures that his residual limb does not get bruised in the socket.

Chersak’s prosthetic has a hydraulic knee that allows him to bend and have more flexibility. But that knee is not a part of his body, so Chersak has to learn how to walk and balance with the prosthetic. During the appointment, Rohrig and Rastello were helping Chersak walk again and reminding him to plant the heel of the prosthetic foot down to anchor himself with every step.

Rohrig and Rastello compared the prosthetic to learning how to ski. The first few times it will be clumsy and Chersak will likely fall, but eventually, it just becomes second nature.

“The first steps, I just felt like I wanted to run already,” Chersak said, with Rastello translating for him.

Chersak walking down the stairs, on his first official day with his prosthetic leg. His prosthetist Ratallack said that he is making significant advances with his leg. (Andrea Grajeda/ Staff Writer)

But Chersak did not let the learning curve deter him. He wanted to try going down stairs. Slowly but steadily, he was able to walk down the stairs with the direction of Retallack and many Limbs for Liberty volunteers cheering him on. Retallack said that the prosthetic was designed with Chersak’s activity level in mind.

“It’s a high-activity leg for a high-activity individual,” Retallack said.

It’s very common for residual limbs to get smaller as time goes on. Retallack said that his limb will shrink, but there are ways for the socket to still get an airtight seal. He said that the socket can be made tighter and gel liners can be inserted into the socket to maintain the airtight seal. However,Chersak will likely need to find a prosthetist in Ukraine to help with potential problems. The Limbs for Liberty group will stay in contact with Chersak and send him any prosthetic supplies that he needs.

Chersak returned to Ukraine on Thursday, prepared with prosthetic supplies and ongoing support from the Limbs for Liberty team. Chersak told Rohrig and Rastello how lucky and grateful he feels to be able to walk again.

Limbs for Liberty is currently in conversations to bring other Ukrainian amputees for prosthetic treatment.

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