A mother whose family was accused of incest after she was born with 12 toes and webbed fingers is now facing the prospect of having both of her feet amputated as a result of the condition.
Disabled mom, Laura Booze, 26, from Millersport, Ohio, was born with polydactyly and syndactyly; conditions in which a person is born with extra fingers or toes and where two or more digits are fused together, respectively.
Laura was born with an extra big toe on each foot; however, the bones inside these were not fully developed. She also had nearly fully fused fingers on one hand, between her middle and ring finger. Doctors were shocked by her case as it was nothing they had ever seen before.
Painful: Laura Booze, 26, from Ohio, was born with 12 toes and webbed fingers as a result of two conditions – polydactyly and syndactyly
Shocking: The mother-of-one, pictured as a baby, says her parents were accused of incest as a result of her unique appearance – which has left her in agony throughout much of her life
In 1994, when she was just a year old, Laura underwent her first surgery to separate her fingers. Then a year later they began to operate on her feet, where they removed the inner big toe on each foot, however, this ended up being a mistake as Laura was unable to properly wear socks or shoes.
Doctors had originally planned to remove the outer big toe instead so as not to affect her balance. Laura’s outer big toe was later surgically moved across.
When she was four years old, they had to redo her finger separation surgery as the scar tissue was very tight and hindered the growth of her fingers. It turned out that her fingers were very difficult to separate as they nearly shared one fingernail and one bone.
In 1999, when she was six years old, they decided that she didn’t need any of her big toes, leaving her with only four toes on each foot. However, three years later she began experiencing a lot of chronic pain due to having underdeveloped bones in her feet following her toe amputations.
Doctors eventually removed the underdeveloped extra bones, but were hesitant to do so for fear of worsening Laura’s condition.
Then in 2014, the sides and balls of Laura’s feet began to spontaneously break, which forced the doctors to intervene again. Laura was given the option to either reconstruct or amputate her feet.
While she was open to either, due to the severity of the pain she had, they decided to reconstruct first; so, in 2015, five plates and 15 screws were inserted in her right foot to restructure it. The surgery was structurally successful, however, it left Laura with agonizing nerve pain.
Despite her negative experiences, she was determined to go through with the reconstruction of her left foot in February 2016. Then seven weeks later she found out she was eight weeks pregnant with her now three-year-old son, Noah.
After choosing to remove some of the metal from her foot, Laura’s doctor has declined to perform any more surgeries. The next surgery she will have is a bilateral amputation, which she has now come to terms with.
Laura admits that she was bullied growing up with her conditions. She was labelled a ‘freak’ and a ‘duck.’ Children implied that her family was incestuous. Despite enduring a lot of pain, she feels stronger than ever having gone through this. She now wants to turn her pain into someone else’s strength.
Agony: Laura underwent her first surgery at the age of one, and by the age of six, she’d had both of the big toes on each foot removed
Complications: In 2014, the sides and balls of Laura’s feet began to spontaneously break, which forced the doctors to intervene again
Upset: Doctors decided that they had two choices – to either reconstruct Laura’s feet or amputate them – and in 2015 decided to try the first option in the hopes of saving her feet
‘It was my normal; being in a wheelchair a lot as a child and living a life in pain made me pretty tough. It was all I knew so I don’t remember having a lot of self-pity,’ Laura said.
‘But I was bullied a lot because of my feet and that affected my self-confidence as a child – although I didn’t think that this would be an issue as an adult. Now, I feel like my disabilities have ruined the life that I had imagined for myself.
‘As a child, I was called a “freak” and a “duck”. People implied that my family was incestuous.
‘I had a lot of dreams and was very vibrant and ambitious prior to the worsening of my condition. After 2014, the wind was knocked out of me.
‘Living in constant agony changes you, it makes you selfish and entitled because you’re constantly desperate to manipulate any situation that would cause you the least amount of pain.
‘It is a siren that blares in my ears constantly and I’m the only one who hears it, yet I have to function like there isn’t chaos inside of my body. The siren isn’t just incredible pain, it’s my grief. Inside, I am waiting for the person I once was.
‘I became unrecognizable and lived in a lot of darkness throughout these last five years. I recently feel as though I’m coming to a turning point, I hope that despite my suffering I can move forward to find new hobbies and new joy.
‘There has to be a greater meaning than just the pain, that’s what pushes me on is knowing that this isn’t all for nothing. Someday my pain will be someone else’s strength.
‘I’ve collectively had three surgeries on my hand, eight surgeries on my right foot, six surgeries on my left foot and one surgery on each of my calves.
Silver lining: Seven weeks after she underwent her second foot reconstruction, Laura found out that she was pregnant with her son, Noah
Obstacles: Since her second foot reconstruction, Laura has been in agonizing pain – and she now faces the prospect of having both of her feet amputated
‘I have gained an enormous amount of weight due to depression, medications and just not being able to move around much.
‘I also am losing function in my feet and basic sensations. That part is kind of scary because in my head I’m moving my feet, but they won’t be moving fully, I won’t know it until I either trip or fall.
‘It has affected my motherhood in mostly positive ways; my pain humbles me and reminds me to continue to improve on my character as my character is my biggest reflection, not my physical capabilities.
Upset: As a child, Laura – pictured with a friend – says she was branded a ‘freak’
‘I do what other moms do; I just have to do it differently. I find a way to always modify every little thing to bring me comfort but not hinder my involvement with my son.
‘The most difficult thing about my journey has been the pain. I can handle deformed and “ugly” feet. But the pain is unbearable. The pain limits me in so many ways.
‘As a child, I had to give up sports, gymnastics, and dance. Aged 20, I gave up my photography and role as a nanny. I couldn’t do anything in my free time because I was cooped up in bed sobbing from the pain.
‘I had to stop going to the gym. I lost my job because of the pain. I have to keep my feet up all day long so they don’t touch anything. Any sensation is unbearable – even the sheets on my bed can be excruciating.
‘I can’t wear socks or shoes – only sandals with a single strap that doesn’t touch too much of my foot. The pain has taken away a lot of my independence. I can’t do what other 26 year olds are doing.’
Laura wants to prove that having a disability should not dampen your spirits and her ultimate goal in life is to be the best mother she can be.
Difficulties: ‘I can’t wear socks or shoes – only sandals with a single strap that doesn’t touch too much of my foot. The pain has taken away a lot of my independence,’ Laura said
Looking ahead: Laura says her dream is to be a good mother to her son Noah, and to focus on the things she can control, not the aspects of her life that bring her pain
‘I just want to be a good mom. I don’t know what my future looks like, right now it feels rather hopeless at the rate I’m going with the pain,’ she said.
‘But I can’t control my pain or how it limits me. I can control how I use it and how I present disabilities to my son.
‘So, my dream? Be a good mom, reduce my pain somehow and serve others without restraint. I’m coming out of the mental darkness that I hid into and I want to use my pain to help others with whatever they’re going through.
‘Being an inspiration has been my driving force for many years, this someday will make sense when I’m using it for the good.
‘2 Corinthians 1 tells us that we go through suffering to help those who suffer. I firmly believe that, if we don’t help others all of our pain will be a waste.
‘I was very mad at God for a long time. I was angry at my situation and I felt that it was unfair. Being angry got me nowhere. I had to come to God with an open heart and receive his grace. This is my biggest regret throughout my disability – letting my anger consume me.
‘Be real. Allow yourself to feel how you feel, suppressing your emotions or suffering will not help you or anyone else. Reach out to someone that you trust or a therapist.
‘For a long time, I thought that I had to stay positive for everyone else just to inspire them. That ultimately led me to drown mentally.
‘You don’t need to be anyone’s superhero, just be you and people will be drawn to your rawness. Being raw makes you relatable and we all just want to feel like someone gets us.’