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Man with beard and prosthetic leg sits on chair beside work table with tools
Bloom Blog

Will makes custom limbs that help kids do what they want to do

By Louise Kinross

When Will Goessaert was 12, he helped Holland Bloorview scientist Jan Andrysek test a new prosthetic knee designed to prevent falls. At the time, his old device might give out a few times a day, causing tumbles.

Today he’s a prosthetics and orthotics technician making devices for clients at Holland Bloorview. And he doesn’t remember his childhood falls. “What really bugged me was when the leg would come apart—the foot would fall off or get bent backwards,” he says with a smile. “Your friends would think it was kind of funny if you’re in pants, and it looks like your leg is backwards.”

Will, who was born with an above-knee amputation, says his experiences as a child at Holland Bloorview were positive. “I could always ask my clinician if I needed to figure out how to do something,” he says. “It might have been padding for football, or how to get hockey or baseball gear to fit.”

Now Will is on the other side of the fence, making custom limbs and orthotics for kids. “The most fun is when a child comes to us and wants to achieve something—whether it’s run or play a sport or an instrument—and we can give them a device that helps them out with that," he says. "As a child, having a well-fitting leg meant I was able to run around in comfort, and that was a huge deal for me.”

Will says on a typical day he’s working on three to five devices in the lab. Clients may be born with a limb difference or acquire one through illness or accidents. "There are a lot of moving pieces and different stages to each prosthetic we make, because they’re all unique.” 

Will initially consider being a nurse or paramedic. But when he had to find a high-school co-op job it was in the middle of SARS, and access to hospitals was limited. “I told my prosthetist here and he said ‘Why don’t you come work here? You already know more about this than I do.’ At the time I said: ‘That doesn’t make any sense.’ But now I understand he meant my lived experience.”

Will did a high-school co-op and a summer internship here, then went to school at George Brown College to become a prosthetics and orthotics technician.

Although he doesn’t have a lot of direct contact with children and youth in his job now, he does sometimes share practical advice. “A couple of weeks ago a clinician had a client who had some questions about driving I could help with,” he says. “I hope seeing me gives them some trust that I may have gone through some of the same things. Amputees get good at solving different problems."

Will says he didn’t experience a lot of challenges growing up. “I guess I got teased but I stood up for myself and it didn’t happen again,” he says. “I had really good friends, and I didn’t have any serious issues that still burden me today. As an amputee, there are things you have to overcome. I think ‘wanting to be normal’ is the biggest one. I thought I was more different than I was for a long time. Now I realize I’m the same as everyone else—I just have a couple of things that are different about my leg.”

As a teen, Will was a competitive para skier. He says he loved the freedom of skiing on one ski. “It was the only para sport I did, and I liked competing against direct peers in the same category as me.”

Will says his work brings him excitement and joy, and "sometimes a bit of sadness for kids who are in certain difficult situations.”

Hanging out with his wife Elizabeth Dunphy, and his stepdaughter, Emilia, is the best stress relief, he says. Will met Elizabeth when they both began working in orthotics and prosthetics at the hospital during the pandemic. “There’s a lot of full-circle stuff for me at Holland Bloorview,” Will says. Elizabeth now works as an executive assistant in our Teaching and Learning Institute.

Will and Elizabeth got married earlier this year and they recreated their “I do” moment at Holland Bloorview in May. CBC captured it in this story. The photo below was taken when Will was 12.

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