Steps of Faith
Nonprofit foundation empowers amputees to move forward.
When Billy Brimblecom Jr. lost his left leg to cancer at age 28 in 2005, he knew his life would never be the same, but he never imagined it would lead to a profound career change. That’s just what happened to this now 40-year-old Lenexa man who once dreamed of playing drums for a top talent like Prince. Today he is living a different, more impactful dream.
He is the executive director of a national nonprofit foundation that helps amputees in financial need get prosthetic limbs.
“What we do, and this is not overstating it, is we not only restore people’s mobility, but we restore their livelihood and we really help put people back together and make them feel, ‘I’m fine,’” says Brimblecom, his boyish, earnest face breaking into a smile.
His life and work center on the Steps of Faith Foundation, founded in Nashville, Tennessee, where Brimblecom, a 1995 Shawnee Mission North graduate, moved in 2009 to pursue a career in music. While struggling to succeed in that very competitive field, in early 2013 he got fitted for a new knee socket on his second prosthetic leg. His prosthetist asked him if he wouldn’t mind giving encouragement to a frightened cancer patient who was getting fitted for a new leg in the next room. The conversation that followed changed Brimblecom’s life.
“I just left there really thanking God that I was able to speak that language,” he recalls. “There was something about that conversation that was extra special. So I went home and told my wife about it, and I was emotional and I said, ‘You know, I just wish that that could be my job.”
When he went back the next day for a follow-up appointment, he told his prosthetist that he wanted to be the bridge of hope and comfort to amputees. Eventually, he was introduced to Rob Pittman, owner of the prosthetic business where Brimblecom was a patient. Pittman, who had recently founded the Steps of Faith Foundation, had set up the nonprofit to help amputees but had not yet organized it. The two men agreed that Brimblecom would lead it.
Taking baby steps along the way, Brimblecom set to work, with 2016 becoming the foundation’s best year yet. Last year, Steps of Faith helped 43 amputees across the country get prosthetic limbs and 23 the year before. Almost $150,000 has been raised so far, and Brimblecom would love to see that amount doubled.
“We feel really great about the 43,” says Brimblecom, who moved back to the Kansas City area last August with his wife, Allison, and their two young children. It just made sense to move back to be in the center of the country to lead the national effort.
But a lot more work needs to be done. April has been proclaimed Limb Loss Awareness Month by the Amputee Coalition, and Brimblecom is trying to get the word out that for as little as $500, a life can be salvaged with a prosthetic limb, which can be purchased for cost through Steps of Faith. Amputees, he explains, who don’t have money for a prosthesis are in a stalemate.
“They’re in this catch-22 of ‘I’ve lost this limb. I just want to get back to work. I can’t get back to work until I get a new leg. And I don’t have health insurance so I can’t get a new leg until I’m generating income,’” he says. “They’re stuck, sometimes for years. And then they gain weight, they get depressed. There’s all sorts of terrible things that can happen.”
Prosthetic limbs range from $10,000 to $100,000, insurmountable costs for the under-insured or uninsured. Steps of Faith Foundation works with about 15 prosthetists around the country who donate their time to help amputees and raise money to cover the costs of prosthetic limbs. Steps of Faith helps those who have lost upper and lower limbs. Statistics show that in America, 2 million people live with limb loss, 500 people lose a limb each day and 185,000 people have an amputation each year.
“While it may seem, as far as a cause or charity goes, a niche to some people, those stats just in this country prove that it’s far more common than people realize,” Brimblecom says.
Tatsiana Khvitsko, 26, of Lenexa, is a double amputee who for the past year has volunteered and supported Steps of Faith Foundation. Born four years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, all four of her limbs were affected since birth. She has a pair of running legs and a pair walking legs, provided with the help of benevolent prosthetic manufacturers and Shriner’s Hospitals for Children, and fingers on both hands are deformed.
“Isn’t it cool?” she asks rhetorically about Steps of Faith’s pure motives in helping amputees. She says that growing up, she always needed help with prosthetic legs because they are so expensive and that knowing that people have such big hearts to help with their dollars is so rewarding.
“It truly is that simple,” she says.
Doyle Collier is a prosthetist who donates hours of time to Steps of Faith. His joy stems from helping his patients for years, both for the many fittings and their follow-up care.
“Steps of Faith allows us to take some of those patients that would not be treated or would be wearing old, beat-up prostheses for a long period of time and try to get them up and going and hopefully back in the work force so they can take care of themselves,” he says. “We get some time with some pretty awesome people. We see that transition from pretty helpless or hopeless to hope and moving forward and getting back into society.”
Brendon Allen, 40, board president of Steps of Faith Foundation, himself an amputee having lost his right leg below the knee to bone cancer 12 years ago, says he enjoys working with Brimblecom because his passion for helping amputees is contagious.
“Even for me, I have some bad days when my prosthetic doesn’t fit right or, in the worst case, I actually don’t put it on because it’s irritated me in some way,” Allen says. “I know what it’s like not to have freedom of motion, to have to use crutches, or have to use a wheelchair. To see people in that situation that haven’t been walking in some time, for Billy and me, it’s both personal. We can both sympathize and definitely put ourselves in the place of these people.”
Brimblecom was fortunate to receive his first prosthetic leg after a fundraiser raised $40,000. His high school buddy, actor Jason Sudeikis, was the headliner. Sudeikis says that knowing Brimblecom has elevated and expanded his taste in music and sets a high bar for what it means to be a friend.
“For years I've had a front-row seat, or a backstage pass, to watch Billy be excellent at, and excel at, whatever he directs his talents and efforts toward,” he says. “I think the people he's going to help, and those he's already helped, are as fortunate to have him as a part of their lives as I know I am. And the great thing about Billy is that I'm sure he feels just as lucky to have all of us in his life as well.”
Brimblecom, who was asked to be the commencement speaker at his high school alma mater, knows firsthand how financially strapped an amputee can feel.
“Having your mobility, having all your limbs, none of that should define who you are,” he says. “There are many people who are not afforded even that opportunity, to be independently mobile. However, if you can have that, and the only thing that is stopping that is money, that is injustice, and I will fight that injustice as long as there is breath in my lungs. Money should not be the thing that is holding people back from getting up and walking and going to work and walking down the steps to play with their kids, and being able to hug with two arms or brush their teeth or all of the things that your limbs allow you to do that you take for granted.”
For more information about Steps of Faith Foundation, visit stepsoffaithfoundation.org.