Meet Monica Prestridge, Founder of Life UnLIMBited
Monica Prestridge has been an amputee almost her entire life, since an accident took part of one of her limbs in early childhood. Fortunately, she doesn’t remember one bit of that fateful day in January 1976 that claimed her lower left leg, and that, she claimed, is just fine with her.
“It’s a blessing that I don’t remember anything from the accident,” said Prestridge.
Prestridge, who grew up in Moultrie, Georgia, was only 4 years old and playing with her siblings in the yard on that chilly January day. Though she can’t recall the series of unfortunate events, she can tell the story of the accident as her family does: “I was in the yard with my two older brothers. We were supposed to be working and helping our dad, but we were mostly playing. I don’t know why, but I wanted to be where my father was, so I ran toward the riding lawn mower. He was mowing close to the house, and I actually came running around the corner, tripped and fell. My father didn’t see me right away, and I went under the lawn mower. I lost my left leg below the knee. Despite injuries to both legs, the doctors were able to save my right leg.”
According to Prestridge, she spent her younger years feeling pretty normal, given the tragedy of the accident — she had no problems with mobility and could do pretty much anything she wanted to do.
“Because I was so young and thankfully have no memory of what I went through — including the accident, the rehab and getting fitted for the prosthetic — I just didn’t know anything else. This is normal for me,” she said.
However, she also did not have a sense of community with other amputees — people to compare notes and experiences with.
“Growing up in South Georgia in the 70s and 80s, I had no idea that there were other amputees in the world. I felt like I was the only one,” she admitted.
Then one day, just before her 48th birthday, Prestridge had what she referred to as a “defining moment.” She’d had a tugging on her heart for a long time that she needed to “do more,” but, until then, the message had been unclear.
“I lost my middle brother when he was just 48 years old. That really hit me hard. So leading up to my 48th birthday, it struck me that 48 years of life was all that my brother got,” she shared. “I thought to myself that if this was all that I had, what had I done with my life up to that point? And that was when it hit me.”
The “it” would be to start a support group for fellow amputees.
“I wanted to give amputees a place to come meet with other people who had been through the same thing,” she said. “I wanted amputees to know that they’re not alone.”
Almost as soon as the group took shape, it started to grow and make a difference. Prestridge made the decision to take a leap and expand into a real organization, known as Life UnLIMBited. The nonprofit is based in Moultrie and continues to offer the support meetings Prestridge feels so passionately about. Now, though, the organization is providing much more than that.
“We are now doing adaptive fitness events that help amputees learn to become more active and do the things that they had no idea that they were able to do. No one had ever been there to show the amputees and their families that they could do more than they ever thought possible,” she exclaimed.
Speaking of families, Life UnLIMBited offers support groups for the caregivers of amputees as well. Thanks to its growing popularity in the community, the organization has recently moved from operating in conference rooms inside Colquitt Regional Medical Center to occupying its very own space, which was generously donated. So far, Life UnLIMBited has about 20 regular members, and Prestridge said another new and exciting feature of her still-growing nonprofit is the recent addition of the Care Closet.
“We have donated equipment — such as wheelchairs, canes, prosthetics and orthotic supplies — for those who need these things but cannot afford them or whose insurance doesn’t cover them,” she said.
Like so many other businesses, Life UnLIMBited has had its share of challenges in 2020. Besides the coronavirus, another hurdle presented itself. Just as she was creating opportunities to support others, it turned out that Prestridge was the one unexpectedly in need of support. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo a double mastectomy. Despite the physical and psychological toll of the year, Prestridge has stayed the course.
“I’ve always known this was a calling,” she mused. “I can now look back on my entire life, including what I’ve been through with the amputation and the cancer, and I can see how God was preparing me for this all along.”
Prestridge recognizes that the local amputees she serves are just a small part of a larger group out there who are greatly in need of support. “We estimate that there are approximately 200 amputees living in Colquitt County alone,” she pointed out. “But there aren’t very many businesses and groups like ours that support the amputee community in Georgia. That just shows how much of a need there is for what we do.”
She added that demand for similar support in the future will be greater than ever, given how many individuals neglect their need for physical activity and a well-balanced diet.
“We are a society with rising rates of inactivity, and that leads to obesity, which leads to diabetes. Unfortunately, diabetes can lead to amputations,” she noted.
What is Prestridge’s message to fellow amputees?
“Please remember that you are not alone. We are here for you, to talk to and share your experiences with others who will understand,” she said.
Written by: Phil Jones
Photography by: Brandon Pham