For some people, running the annual Crescent City Classic is like a walk in the park. For 32-year-old Brittany Grunberg of LaPlace, every step is a struggle.
Although she was an active young woman who played several sports at St. Charles Catholic High School, Grunberg had never run in the annual road race. She'd never even walked it for fun.
Her first time as a participant was in 2015, when she and her cousin, Jenna Keating, decided they should give it a go. She finished the 10K (6.2 miles) in one hour, 45 minutes, well behind the women’s winning time of 31.55. Last year she lowered her time to one hour, 12 minutes.
Not bad for a woman with no legs.
Grunberg lost both of her legs in 2004 after a battle with bacterial meningitis. Then an 18-year-old freshman at Southeastern Louisiana University, Grunberg spent a week in an induced coma before her body responded to the massive amounts of antibiotics being pumped into her system. After she awoke, doctors spent another month trying to save her legs.
“Looking at my legs and what they looked like, I was like, ‘Why are we trying to save them? Just cut them off,’ ” Grunberg said. “I had been in the hospital for 30 days and it felt like a hundred. I was just ready to get out of there.”
A week after doctors removed her legs just below the knees, Grunberg was released from the hospital to a completely new life. She received prosthetics, but they were miserably uncomfortable. She had dreamed of going into nursing, but could no longer spend the long hours standing. She was no longer active. She began to spiral into depression.
“After two years I was in pain all the time,” Grunberg said. “I felt like I couldn’t stand for more than five minutes. I couldn’t walk very far. I felt like I was going backward.”
Grunberg’s parents found help in the form of Stan Patterson, owner of Prosthetic and Orthotic Associates in Orlando, Florida, which specializes in custom-fitted prosthetics, especially for the “challenging” cases — like Grunberg’s.
Her doctors, believing they were doing her a favor at the time, amputated Grunberg’s legs evenly, just inches below her knees.
“The medical staff decided they wanted to match them up, which was a huge mistake,” Patterson said. “She was left with very short residual legs. Some people told her she would hardly ever walk, much less run.”
Once she was outfitted with a proper-fitting pair of legs, however, Grunberg’s life changed dramatically.
“He just changed my life immediately,” she said of Patterson. “They weren’t necessarily different, I just felt like they were made right. It’s all in the small details. That day I walked around the building a few times, which almost made a mile. I was, like, ‘What have I been doing for two years?’ That right there is when I said, this is what I want to do. I want to make prosthetics for other people.”
After going to school in California to get her certification in prosthetics, Grunberg returned to the New Orleans area and worked locally. But she wasn’t fulfilled.
“I wanted to do prosthetics the way Stan does in Orlando,” she said.
So after training with Patterson for a year, the two opened Prosthetic and Orthotic Associates in Metairie in July of 2015, providing custom-fitted prosthetics to patients of all ages — and breeds.
Grunberg’s own service dog, Cyna, a golden retriever born with one leg missing, received her new custom-fitted prosthetic just a few weeks ago thanks to Patterson’s creativity.
Patterson also helped Grunberg get her life back.
“For 11 years I was told that I couldn’t run because my legs were too short,” she said. “Not only did it change my life in the business aspect, but it changed everything. I only started running three years ago. That first day, they had to catch me to stop me and hold me up. To run six miles is insane to me. Now I love to run.”
Grunberg will run the Crescent City Classic on Saturday for the third year, hoping to whittle her time down to one hour. Her goal also is to raise funds for 50 Legs, a non-profit organization which helps provide prosthetics to those who otherwise could not afford them. Often, insurance companies will pay for a walking leg, which can cost about $12,000, but not for an active leg, such as the ones used for running. The 50 Legs organization helps with those costs and also with travel expenses. Last year Grunberg’s team raised nearly $56,000 for Louisiana patients.
“Brittany is just a true inspiration on what she’s done and what she’s overcome,” said Steve Chamberlain, founder of 50 Legs. “We’ve been very blessed. Because of the Crescent City Classic, we’ve helped a ton of people in Louisiana. They get their lives back. She’s doing amazing things. I can’t say enough good about that woman.”