SALT LAKE CITY – A man with one leg is walking from Salt Lake City to St. George on crutches.
Steve Wahlquist, a resident of Cedar Hills, Utah, began his trek on Sept. 10. He is walking from Salt Lake City to St. George along U.S. Route 89. He will walk a total of 365 miles and arrive in St. George sometime in late October to early November.
Wahlquist is walking to raise awareness of and funds for children who need artificial limbs.
Wahlquist knows the struggle of children with amputated limbs well because he experienced it himself. He was born with cancer, and his right leg was amputated at the hip when he was two days old.
He began walking with a pair sawed-off crutches when he was 2 years old and hasn’t slowed down since. As a youth, he played baseball, hiked, rappelled, snow and water skied, and delivered newspapers.
Wahlquist was never a good candidate for an artificial limb, because of how his leg was amputated and because he functions so well without one. Even so, he’s very aware of the struggle many children with amputations face.
“I found out some time ago that there is a significant number of people – almost two million in America – living without limbs. About 10 percent of them are children, and about half of those are under the age of six,” Wahlquist said.
Even if the parents of a child with an amputation have health insurance, many insurance plans do not cover artificial limbs. Some insurance plans only cover 80 percent of the cost of an artificial limb, leaving parents to pay the other 20 percent.
Since artificial limbs can cost anywhere between $8,000 to $25,000 or more, even a 20 percent copayment is impossible for some families.
Furthermore, children outgrow artificial limbs quickly.
“One of the things we hear about kids is that they will outgrow artificial limbs at the same rate as kids outgrow $20 or $40 shoes,” Wahlquist said.
Since many growing children need one or two new artificial limbs every year, tens of thousands of them go without any artificial limb at all.
Children who outgrow artificial limbs cannot “hand them down” to other children for reuse. Reuse of artificial limbs or prosthetics is illegal in the United States.
Wahlquist particularly wants to help a 5-year-old boy named Kevin who has no arms or legs. Kevin has a wheelchair, but his family does not have a wheelchair-accessible vehicle, so his mother carries him outside of the home.
“That’s working for now,” Wahlquist said, “but Kevin’s going to get bigger.”
Part of Wahlquist’s goal is to get a wheelchair-accessible van for Kevin’s family.
Wahlquist’s larger goal is to raise $2.7 million – one dollar for every person in Utah.
“That amount of money will help about 40 to 50 kids,” Wahlquist said.
He is accepting donations on the road while he walks and on his website, http://www.walkstevewalk.com. Each donor’s name is listed on the website unless they wish to remain anonymous.
Brock Rigdon, a longtime friend of Wahlquist, is offering another way to help. Rigdon will donate $10 to Wahlquist for each person who schedules a massage through his website, http://www.massagestgeorge.com.
To learn more about Wahlquist and his journey, visit http://www.walkstevewalk.com.