BYRON CENTER, Mich. — Amer Gasmi is four inches taller today than he was last week. The Tunisian 21-year-old has needed new legs since he was 17, and thanks to the world of hip hop and some west Michigan connections, he finally got them.
Gasmi had both legs amputated just below the knees at 2 years old. He says doctors don't know what caused blood to clot, but after six months in the hospital, amputation was the only way.
As a child, he would get new prosthetics every six or so months as he grew, but he says they "weren't very good."
Even without his own biological feet, Gasmi is a talented break dancer, even competing in the 2017 Youth Olympics representing his home country of Tunisia. He didn't medal, but says it was a "good experience" to compete against some of the best dancers in the world, most of whom are typically abled.
He was shown break dancing by a friend in 2013, and immediately was hooked. His amputation and prosthetics set his height around 5'8", but his wingspan is massive, closer to that of a person who is well above six feet tall, potentially with a few inches above that.
"It's like therapy for me," Gasmi said.
When he's dancing, he becomes absorbed by the music, tuning the rest of the world out. That hip hop that gives him emotional healing would be the same thing that brought him the legs he has wanted for so long.
Through mutual connections, Gasmi was introduced to Matthew Duncan. Duncan is a hip hop artist and runs the The Hip Hop Association of Advancement and Education (HHAAE). He's also an orthotist specializing in prosthetics at the Hanger Clinic in Byron Center.
"Hip hop really is the connection," Duncan said. "It's like seeing your family get new legs."
The original plan was to fly Gasmi to the states and fit him for new prosthetics in 2019, when the pair first connected, but COVID stopped that process in its tracks.
The wait meant Gasmi's prosthetics at the time would have to fill the gap, but they started to deteriorate, making the new set all the more important. Duncan says it was a partnership between HHAAE, Nexux technology services, and the Hanger Clinic that finally brought Gasmi to the US to get the shins he needed.
"There’s no small moments, every moment was a big moment for all of us," Duncan said. "We’re looking at each other like what’s happening, what’s going on right now? And what’s happening is Amer feels like himself, and we were blessed to help him do it."
"I used to look in the mirror and thing it's not me," Gasmi said. "Now it feels good. I feel like myself."
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