Writing a believable book takes a lot of things – sympathetic characters, a believable story line and that all important “write what you know.”
So when Carter Keith, an 11-year-old fifth grader at Russellville Elementary School got an idea for a book, his mom, Joanna, encouraged him to get started.
Joanna Keith said Carter got an idea for a prosthetic arm and did some drawings. He then began working on developing his core characters and decided to focus on a unique area – superhero-type kids each facing a physical or medical disability.
It’s an area Carter is all too familiar with, his mom said. Carter, who has diabetes, wears an insulin pump and his older sister has osteogenesis imperfecta, a congenital bone disease that causes her bones to break easily.
Instead of writing a story for school, Carter opted to write his book and have it published so he can bring awareness of different disabilities to the attention of children who have none.
“He’s very empathetic,” his proud mom said, adding that even as young as 5, Carter was sensitive to the pain of others.
“I feel other people’s pain,” he told his mother.
So far, Carter has completed character profiles on each of his characters and prepared backstories on each. The four main kid characters include two amputees – one missing an arm and the other missing a leg – a character with an insulin pump and one who requires a feeding tube.
Like all good writers, Carter decided he needed to do some research to make his characters as real as possible. So he had his mom call the folks at Southern Orthocare for a grand tour of the facilities to learn about the challenges amputees face.
Carter and his mother met Billy Love, a double-amputee since childhood who now works with other amputees.
Love showed Carter the first artificial leg he wore as a child and showed him a poster from 1966 when Love was the Shriner’s poster child.
“Since I wear them, I felt I could get other people up and going,” Love told Carter.
During the tour, Carter saw how models of the patient’s residual limb are made so the new leg can be customized to fit perfectly. He was shown a completed leg, the outer shell of which is made of carbon fiber, “the same thing used on the nose of the space shuttle,” Love said.
He was also shown a prosthetic hand which allows a person who has lost a hand to have a strong grip while having the dexterity to pick up an egg without breaking it. Love said the new prosthetic hands contain some of the newest advances in the field.
Love told Carter that wearing a prosthetic is sort of like having a super power because they allow you “to overcome things that happen to you in your life and to use those things to your advantage. It’s not necessary that disabilities are disabling.”
Because Carter’s characters will be kids like himself, he was curious about how often they need new legs and about how they adapt to losing a limb.
Love said that because children continue to grow into their late teens, the rule of thumb is they often need a new limb every two years because of growth and development. Even adults may need changes to their limbs following large weight gains or losses or after revision surgery.
Love also said it’s not unusual for a patient facing the loss of a limb to initially feel depressed, but it’s important to remember where their strength comes from.
“Your book is going to be an inspiration,” Love told Carter.