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LaPlace’s Brittany Grunberg racing again on specially outfitted prosthetic legs

LAPLACE — Today marks 11 years since one local woman’s life changed. Instead of dwelling on the past, she is looking toward the future.

“We call it my celebrate life day,” Brittany Grunberg said.

When she is not working, Brittany Grunberg has been training for today’s SCC Run for the Son. She said she is nervous but excited to participate.

When she is not working, Brittany
Grunberg has been training for today’s SCC Run for the Son. She said she is nervous but excited to participate.

Today is the anniversary of Grunberg’s diagnosis with bacterial meningitis, which resulted in her losing both her legs at the age of 18.

“She came home Friday night with a headache and she went straight to bed,” Rachel Vicknair said. “She also said she had a sore throat.”

Vicknair is Grunberg’s mother. When Grunberg came home sick, Vicknair bought her medicine the next day, thinking her daughter possibly had the flu. When Grunberg was offered something to drink, her mother said she couldn’t hold her head up. The 18-year-old was rushed to a local hospital.

“When we took her to the hospital, one of the emergency room doctors noticed she had a spot on her foot,” Vicknair said. “He thought it was meningitis. So they did a spinal tap immediately and, from that moment on, we didn’t know if she would make it.”

Grunberg says she doesn’t really remember much else after the spinal tap.

She was put into a medically induced coma and was sustained through life support. Her mother said Grunberg’s body went into sepsis from the meningitis, which spread every 15 minutes.

Grunberg was in the induced coma for more than a week.

“When I woke up, my legs were just black up to my knees,” she said. “They had stopped the infection, but at that point, my legs had already died pretty much.”

Grunberg was eventually moved to a hospital in Baton Rouge.

“They amputated her first leg Nov. 16,” Vicknair said. “I remember that because it was my husband’s birthday. Then the next, Tuesday, they amputated her other leg.”

Losing both legs has not stopped Grunberg.

“She is very strong, and very determined,” Vicknair said. “I’m just amazed. She didn’t let this stop her.”

With help from a specialist in Orlando, Grunberg was fitted with new prosthetic legs that fit properly.

“How blessed am I?” Vicknair said. “I got to see her take her first steps twice. The second time wasn’t that pretty, but I saw her walk again.”

Grunberg graduated from Southeastern Louisiana University in 2008 with a degree in business administration. She then went to California State Dominguez Hills for prosthetics and graduated in 2010 before performing a year of residency.

Grunberg went into prosthesis and teamed up with the specialist from Orlando to open Prosthetic & Orthotic Associates of Louisiana in Metairie, which opened two months ago. The prosthesis office in Metairie sees new patients, makes casts from their prosthetics and fabricates them, plus more.

Grunberg, 29, lives in LaPlace and recently outfitted herself with a new pair of running prosthetic legs, which she will be debuting at the Run for the Son race today in LaPlace.

“They originally told her she would never be able to run in her new legs because her residuals were cut so short,” Vicknair said.

Grunberg says she keeps her prosthetics on by using a device called vacuum suspension.

“I just press a button, and it pulls the air out of the socket so it gives a better form of suspension,” Grunberg said. “It pretty much attaches the limb to the prosthetic limb.

“The only difference between my running prosthetics and my walking prosthetics are the actual feet. The running feet are just a full carbon fiber piece, and they offer a lot more spring. They don’t have a heel on them, so when I’m running it’s as if I were running on my toes.”

Grunberg felt it is fitting to run in the race today because 11 years ago the Run for the Son was the last race she ran before becoming ill. Plus, she graduated from Charles Catholic School.

She isn’t hoping for any specific time, she just wants to finish.

“I’m just lucky to be able to run the race,” she said. “If I trip and fall, oh well. I’m a little nervous, but really I’m excited to do it.”

By Raquel Derganz Baker