Five Fingers, Ten Toes. Raising a Child Born With a Limb Difference

Posted on Monday 24th September, 2012

Katie Kolberg Memmel gave birth to her first son in 1985 but in addition to the steep learning curve for any first-time mother, she also had to come to terms with the fact that her newborn son was born missing his forearm and hand.  She has just published a book about her experiences and writes for DysNet about "Five Fingers and Ten Toes" here. 


"Love your kids like crazy! Be strong and bold advocates for your children.  Through your strong example they will, in turn, grow to be strong and bold advocates - not only for themselves, but for others as well and for the world around them."

Back in 1985, before ultrasounds were performed on a routine basis, before a baby's sex could be reported at 20 weeks, I gave birth to my first child.  I had labored for almost 24 hours when our doctor finally declared to my husband (Todd) and me, "It's a Boy!" Hearing those words made us smile with joy. 

memmelWe quickly realized that something seemed wrong.  It looked like our baby was making a fist, and I wondered why he wasn't unclenching it, when the realization sank in.  My baby didn't have a hand.  In fact, he had nothing below his left elbow.  The doctors later explained that his condition was called, "congenital amputation of left forearm and hand." I wrote it down so I wouldn't forget.  A whirlwind followed - our new child was here, and he was different. 

We named him Anthony (Tony).  Almost immediately, I began to question his future.  Would he crawl? Would he play a musical instrument? Sports? I figured baseball would be out.  Would he fall in love? Would anyone want to hold his hand? The worrying and wondering proved to be too much for me.  I cried - sobbed actually.  And then I prayed. 

My initial worries faded, realizing he was just a normal little boy.  Every day he demonstrated feats like holding his bottle, and crawling around the house.  Todd and I exposed Tony to lots of experiences and people.  He was a pleasant child, quick to smile and giggle. 

Once-appealing philosophies such as, dream big, little boy, there's nothing you can't do, were replaced with practical thoughts of, he'll need to do everything in this life, we better help him figure it out.  We taught independence from a very young age.  I believed that if other kids his age were accomplishing a task, Tony should be doing it too.  I worked with him, taking into consideration how something could be completed with one hand.  I showed him how to use his elbows, and even his feet, if necessary.  We didn't coddle him or grant him special treatment.  He'd need to do everything, and the time to start was now. 

Once enrolled in a sport or activity, quitting was never an option, so Tony focused on true interests.  We encouraged him in everything he tried, from soccer to trumpet, baseball to singing.  He grew into a polite, interested, active young man.  Tony is now an accomplished musician, a touring singer/songwriter, and plays the guitar with one hand - a truly inspirational story in itself!

In 2009, I began chatting on a Limb Differences website.  Sharing portions of our story, from Tony's birth to college graduation, seemed to ease the newer, younger parents' minds.  Many of them harbored the same questions I'd once asked.  One young mom encouraged me to write a book.  Initially, I laughed at her suggestion.  But after feeling nudged again and again, I dug deep into my faith, and decided to write the book.  Outside of getting married and giving birth to my children, it is the most important project I ever completed. 

The book, titled, "Five Fingers, Ten Toes - A Mother's Story of Raising a Child Born With a Limb Difference," is now available through Amazon as both a Kindle download as well as a paperback.  Check it out, and witness the amazing things our limb different children and friends are able to accomplish when they say, "Yes, I can!"

Find it at
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Tags: Katie Memmel Tony Memmel amazon limb difference dysmelia Article Article Article Article


Barb Kowalski

Barb Kowalski

Sunday 24th September, 2017 @ 4:23 am
Katie, I am so anxious for the book to come so I can read it. Your positiveness in the face of challeges is so inspiriational.


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