Senior Katie Winckler with Dr. Michael Crandall, the pediatric orthopedic surgeon who performed her surgeries at the Shriners Children’s Hospital in Sioux Falls. Photo provided by Katie Winckler.
Augustana Senior Katie Winckler was born with proximal femoral focal deficiency (PFFD) and has been a patient at Shriners Children’s Hospital in Sioux Falls her whole life. She had her first surgery at 11 months old.
But now, after being officially discharged from the Shriners Hospital for Children in March, Winckler is a patient ambassador for the hospital, a position that advocates for the hospital’s mission through philanthropy and advocacy.
“The hospital puts a smile on your face,” Winckler, a secondary education and English major, said. “I’m gonna miss the heck out of that place.”
When Winckler’s parents found that she had PFFD at her birth, they had a tough decision on their hands. In a child with PFFD, one femur is short, making the legs two different lengths, and amputation of the foot or part of the leg is often required.
Winckler said her parents pondered the long-term benefits and consequences of their decision. She said Shriner Dick Behl first involved her parents with the Shriners to help them weigh their options, giving them “clarity and direction.”
“Having someone like Dick—who is a giant in my community, well-respected and everything—was important,” Winckler said.
At 11 months old, surgeons at the hospital removed Winckler’s left foot, and she said she received her first of 14 prosthetic legs a month later.
In fifth grade, she had her second surgery to break the growth plate in her other leg to make her legs more equal, Winckler said.
Winkler said her final appointment was the last time she saw Dr. Michael Crandall, the pediatric orthopedic surgeon who performed her surgeries and oversaw her patient-care.
“It was still really exciting, but it was sad to end a chapter like that,” Winckler said.
As an ambassador, Winckler took a trip to the Shriner Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis–Saint Paul, Minnesota, to talk with patients and staff.
“Now I get to meet the Shriners behind all of it,” Winckler said.
At Augustana’s first football game this season—the 47th Annual El Riad Shrine Football Game—a video featured Winckler’s Shriner Hospital story. The football team had also met Winckler earlier at a Shriner banquet in August.
“What made it so special is that she’s an Augie student,” Rocky Hayes, the public relations chairman for the El Riad Shrine, said. “She is a sweetheart and so tough and energetic.”
According to its website, the Shriners Hospital for Children’s official mission is to serve children in a family-centered, fun environment, educate physicians and provide life-changing research.
At the Fall Ceremonial for the El Riad Shrine on Nov. 10, Hayes said Winckler will share her Shriner Children’s Hospital story.
“She’s been very generous with her time for us,” Hayes said.
Winckler said she recalled the selflessness of Shriners standing out to her in a recent visit to the outreach clinic.
Winckler said she remembers what many of the Shriners said about the Shriners Football Game at Augustana: “We don’t care that this happens on a Saturday, it’s doing stuff like this that reminds us why we do our job. We could do this every day.”
“We have fun with a purpose,” Hayes said. “As we say, we really do it for the kids.”
Anticipating her 21st birthday, Winckler said the Shriner Children’s Hospital in the Twin Cities discharged her in March with a diploma reading “K-Dub.”
“They did a really fun thing,” Winckler said. “They said what do you want on your diploma?”
Winckler said she had joked about her recent nickname “K-Dub,” but she added that “Katie” was fine to print on the diploma. The Shriners ran with the nickname, printing it on her diploma given to signifying her official discharge from the hospital.
“That’s why what I’m doing now with the El Riad Shrine Temple—being involved—that’s where it becomes really important,” Winckler said, “I was discharged as a patient, but I don’t have to be discharged as an ambassador.”