UNC students Abby Mueller and Tolson Jeffrey started Carolina Best Foot Forward, which helps raise money to provide kids with prosthetic limbs.
Above: Abby Mueller lost her right leg in a boating accident when she was 15 years old. Now, she wants to help kids in the Triangle get expensive prosthetics. Photo by Thomas Nations.
When Abby Mueller goes running in Chapel Hill, it’s common for people to stare.
Her bouncy stride is made possible by a prosthetic leg that starts below her knee and is shaped like a hook underneath various springs and other mechanisms. The Houston native and junior at UNC lost her right leg when she was 15 years old in a boating accident.
When people stare at Tolson Jeffrey on campus, it’s because he’s in the middle of Kenan Stadium on a Saturday afternoon playing for the football team. The junior kicker majoring in biomedical engineering first took an interest in prosthetics when he visited the Wounded Warrior Battalion-East in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina and saw how many veterans had prosthetic limbs.
Mueller and Jeffrey’s experiences inspired them to co-found UNC’s new club, Carolina Best Foot Forward.
Mueller and Jeffrey met freshman year by luck; they lived on the same hall in Granville Towers. They quickly became good friends, then realized they shared the same passion for prosthetics.
Jeffrey recalls Mueller asking him to meet with her in the Agora, Granville’s dining hall, in fall 2015 to discuss starting a non-profit club on UNC’s campus that would provide secondary prosthetic limbs for underprivileged children in the Triangle area.
Normal insurance coverage allows one prosthetic limb. This limb tends to be stationary and only allows users minimal movement. Anyone hoping to live an active lifestyle must invest in a secondary prosthetic limb, which can cost over $6,000. A secondary prosthetic limb usually is specific to the activity desired. For example, there are running limbs, which have traction, mobility, and springs that help the user run as if there were no limb missing. Other secondary limbs are modified for yoga, volleyball, swimming or other activities.
“I was still growing when I had my amputation,” says Mueller, a chemistry and business administration double major. “I frequently went in to get height adjustments made to my leg.”
This sparked her curiosity in the problems other growing children faced with prosthetic limbs. Her prosthetist exposed her to the frequency younger patients came in and the turnover rate for new limbs and the inadequacies in insurance coverage.
“It was frustrating to both me and my prosthetist,” Mueller says.
“The idea originally started as fundraising for a limb in general, but evolved to secondary limbs,” says Jeffrey. “We knew we wanted to be a nonprofit.”
With a vision came action and an unexpectedly difficult starting process for Jeffrey and Mueller.
“We definitely didn’t realize how difficult the legal process would be for establishing a new non-profit,” says Mueller. “There’s a huge startup cost with the North Carolina Secretary of State to become ‘official’ with the government.”
Yet their pursuits were made possible through a partnership with the UNC School of Law, who assisted Mueller and Jeffrey in the vast amounts of paperwork associated with becoming a 501c3 non-profit.
“Obtaining recognition from the State for being a 501c3 non-profit was one of our proudest accomplishments,” says Jeffrey. “It’s a tangible, real-world goal. Anyone can start a club on campus, but taking that step means we are committing to something bigger.”
Carolina Best Foot Forward (BFF) is still in the beginning stages, but Mueller and Jeffrey are hopeful for the club’s second year on campus.
In the upcoming year, the club hopes to have a 2 mile walk to raise awareness about people living with prosthetic limbs. They also intend to host a soccer tournament in the spring. Upcoming events can be found on the club’s Facebook page. Currently, the group meets the second Thursday of every month.
“Our goal is to provide kids with a better quality of life through the purchase of a secondary prosthetic leg,” says Muller.
While Mueller and Jeffrey share a similar concern for retaining members and creating a sustainable club, they’re energized off the ability to transform lives in the Triangle Area. Carolina BFF is currently in contact with a local prosthetist to find a child in need of a secondary prosthetic limb.
With a couple future fundraisers in the works for the fall semester, Carolina BFF is looking forward to beginning the work both co-founders envisioned almost two years ago in a dining hall.