Lera Excels in Life and Adaptive Sports With Above-Knee Prostheses

Lera Doederlein
August 9, 2023
Hanger Clinic

As a child, Lera struggled to walk due to arthrogryposis. At the age of 14, Lera and her family made the difficult decision to undergo bilateral above-knee amputation. Now, Lera is thriving with bilateral above-knee prostheses, taking college courses, and exceling in adaptive sports.

Adoption and Childhood

In April 2003 in a small town in Saratov Russia, Lera Doederlein was born with arthrogryposis, a disability severely effecting both hips and legs. She was immediately put up for adoption. Around two years later, she was adopted by her parents, David and Fami. Lera struggled with bent and bowed legs, and muscles that didn’t work properly. With a combination of knee-ankle-foot orthotics and crutches, she was able to get around, but as the years went on her condition worsened along with her mobility. During a routine exam, Lera’s orthopedic surgeon advised that bilateral above-knee amputations could be an option for Lera.

The family sought out multiple opinions. They eventually had a consultation with an orthopedic surgeon at Shriners and prosthetist/Pediatric Specialist Jillian Okimoto, CPO with Hanger Clinic in Phoenix. There were concerns about the range of motion and muscle strength in Lera’s hips, so the medical team asked the family to also consult with a physical therapist.

Jillian shared, “This is a great example of a team approach used to evaluate a patient for care. The surgeon, therapist, and I discussed potential outcomes and challenges that could be ahead for Lera. But at the end of the day, Lera was determined to become more mobile, and convinced us and her family it was the right decision for her.”

Lera Doederlein

At the age of 14, Lera made the incredibly difficult decision to undergo bilateral above-knee amputation.

Lera said, “My parents and I both were extremely stunned by the idea, but I quickly came to the conclusion that this was the direction I needed to head in if I wanted to become more independent as a growing young woman and teenager.”

Recovery and Prosthesis

After her amputation, Lera was determined to make a strong recovery and visited Hanger Clinic to get her first prostheses fit.

“That first experience with my clinician and the assistant was pretty life changing, it was really special for a new patient like me.”

Lera started with stubbies to develop core strength, stretch her hips, and walk with a lower sense of gravity. She quickly progressed to above-knee prostheses. Now, Lera wears prostheses with microprocessor-controlled knees which are programmed to allow her to walk up and down stairs, ramps, and cover all sorts of terrain.

Discovering Adaptive Sports

Lera learned about sled hockey during her first prosthetic fitting appointment where she met Mike Schulenberg, a unilateral amputee who played for the Arizona Coyotes sled hockey team. He strongly encouraged Lera to try sled hockey. After attending her first practice, Lera instantly fell in love with the sport.

“As soon as I got on the ice, it was one of the moments I felt so independent, it was so freeing just skating around on the ice. It was a surreal moment of realizing that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

Lera Doederlein

From a very young age, I was in love with sports. I didn’t know what adaptive sports were and I always felt a bit of a barrier between myself and typical sports for able-bodied kids. Adaptive sports opened new opportunities for me.

Lera Doederlein

Two years after that first hockey practice, Lera met Oksana Masters, a Paralympic athlete and gold medalist in sit skiing. Oksana recruited Lera through the U.S Paralympic Sport Development Team, and after training for about a year and a half, Lera was able to qualify for 2022 Winter Paralympics in Beijing where she recorded multiple top ten finishes.

Amid her athletic accomplishments, Lera also graduated from Classical Academy in her hometown of Escondido and is now taking online courses at Pomona College.

“It is a lot of work being a two-sport athlete. I still have a lot to learn. I take it day-by-day, of course, and put in the work.”

Lera Doederlein

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