Ellie May Challis was born in Essex, England in 2004. She has a twin sister, Sophie and older siblings Tai-la, nine, and Connor, eleven. When Ellie was just 16 months old, she was struck down with a near fatal case of meningitis. Although she beat the odds and survived the deadly bug, septicemia caused her little body to shut down and mere weeks later Ellie had to have her legs and arms amputated. Despite her disability, Ellie was able to walk into her first day at school on her own in her new carbon fiber prosthetic legs.
Ellie was originally fitted with standard prosthetic legs, but was having a difficult time keeping up with her siblings and other children her age. Her original legs also never fit quite right, causing her pain and making it difficult to walk. Ellie’s community however, who have fallen in love with the little tot, held a fundraiser and raised enough money for new carbon fiber prosthetic legs, the same legs used by Paralympic sprinters, making Ellie the youngest person ever to have carbon fiber legs. Ellie new legs cost $15,000 and were made by the renowned prosthetic center and their team of specialists, Dorset Orthopaedic.
There are several advantages to manufacturing prosthetic legs out of carbon fiber and not fiberglass or Kevlar. For starters, carbon fiber is much more lightweight and is able to be made into very thin sheets over the prosthetic socket. Carbon fiber is also extremely strong. A major disadvantage, however, is that carbon fiber, when bent to a great extent, can break and this is something that engineers of prosthetic limbs have been working to overcome.
For Ellie though, she loves her new limbs, which will have to be replaced every two years as she continues to grow. The director at Dorset Orthopaedic said that they “were worried that she wouldn’t be able to balance properly on them, but she has made amazing progress. Within seconds of having them on, she was off. It will change her life.” Ellie’s parents are also extremely pleased with the results; her father declared that “Ellie can walk twice as fast on these new legs. She is so full of determination.”
A few months ago, Ellie met with Olympian hopeful Oscar ‘Blade Runner’ Pistorius. Oscar and Ellie both have the Cheetah Flex-Foot prosthetic limbs and knowing this, they decided to challenge each other to a few races. Oscar, who is from South Africa, has been hailed the fastest man with no legs and holds many world records, but he seemed to have underestimated Ellie. Just mere weeks after learning to walk with her new carbon fiber prosthetic legs, Ellie was able to beat Oscar in all four of their 15-meter races!
Here’s a video of Ellie learning to walk on the new carbon fiber legs: