The Tools of the Trade
How a Shriners Hospital prosthetist changed the course of a former patient’s life
A tear slid down Ashleigh Bentz’s cheek as she opened the toolbox ... a shoe horn, a pipe cutter, clamps.
The tools that helped make Marvin Hohbein the master prosthetist that he was for decades at Shriners Hospitals for Children — St. Louis now were held tenderly in the hands of a former patient who had followed in his footsteps.
“It was surreal,” said Ashleigh, a certified orthotic and prosthetic assistant for a hospital system in Springfield, Missouri. “Now I’ve got a piece of Marv for the rest of my career.”
To understand how the toolbox ended up in her possession and why it means so much to her, you have to forget the mature and successful woman she is now and see her as the insecure, bullied girl who had her right leg amputated when she was 2. And you have to know that Marvin was an amputee, too.
“Marvin was always teaching me things, like how to deal with bullies and pranks to pull with your prosthesis,” she said.
At Shriners Hospital and with Marvin, Ashleigh found a respite from the trials of her life that came after being born with fibular hemimelia, in which the smaller bone of the leg fails to form.
“[Shriners Hospital] became a safe place where other kids looked like me and understood how I felt about looking different than other people,” she said. “At school, that didn’t happen. At Shriners, I fit in.”
For the first 18 years of her life, Ashleigh grew – physically and emotionally, both with Marvin’s help. He provided her with new, longer legs – and some life lessons. “I learned how to care for people who are different, and we're all different,” she said. “I wouldn't have gotten that anywhere else. That was one of Marvin’s most important lessons for me.”
Ashleigh visited the hospital for the final time as a patient in 2006, when she was a senior in high school. Marvin presented her with her last new leg – and something else. “He gave me a whole bunch of his books,” she said. Books for an aspiring prosthetist. “He told me, ‘I don’t need these, but you’re going to.’”
He encouraged her to apply for a technician program at Oklahoma State University. “He was just very encouraging. He told me, ‘Ashleigh, you've got the personality, and you've got the heart for people.’ I remember that conversation so vividly,” she said.
With a letter of recommendation from Marvin, she was admitted and graduated. For the past seven-and-a-half years, she has been working in the field Marvin inspired her to join.
And so we come back to the toolbox.
Marvin died in 2015, shortly after retiring. Since then, Ashleigh has kept in touch with his daughter, Holly. Earlier this year, Holly said she and her siblings had something to give Ashleigh. It was her dad’s toolbox of implements that helped forge new prosthetics – and camaraderie with his patients. It now sits next to Ashleigh’s desk as a reminder of everything Marvin meant to her.
“He always told me to just be me, and that no matter where I ended up, I’d change lives,” Ashleigh said. “Marvin was a hero without a cape to me.”
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