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The City Journals

Matt Lowell provides Un-Limb-ited hope to teen amputees through camps

Sep 30, 2019 05:27PM ● By Deserae Dorton

Oakley Doyle (front left) calls the Un-Limb-ited camps the best experience of her life. Summer camps allow for teen amputees to have an unforgettable week through the Utah wilderness on a trip down the Green River. (Tye McDonough/Shriners Hospitals for Children)

By Deserae Dorton | [email protected]urnals.com

Matt Lowell is often seen walking around his Sugar House neighborhood with his two labs. Though a friendly guy, many of his neighbors have no idea that this resident of over 15 years spends a great deal of his time and energy on a youth camp that has changed the lives of hundreds of kids.

Originally from Connecticut, Lowell first came to Utah in 1992 for the physical therapy program at the University of Utah. He interned at Shriners Hospitals for Children-Salt Lake City and fell in love with the place. “I loved the vibe. It is a place like no other,” he said. Soon after graduation, Lowell was hired as a physical therapist at the Salt Lake City Shriners Hospital.

The beginnings of Un-Limb-ited

While in school, Lowell volunteered with the University of Utah’s burn camp and saw big changes for the kids who attended. He was struck how the experience helped considerably with their confidence and in working through trauma.

As Lowell started his work at Shriners Hospitals for Children-Salt Lake City, a pediatric orthopaedic hospital, he recognized a parallel need in the amputee population.

“A lot of the amputees I was working with as a physical therapist were struggling to get out in the community being active in addition to dealing with common teenage issues,” Lowell said.

So, in 2005 he started a ski and snowboard camp for teen amputees treated at the Salt Lake City Shriners Hospital. Three years later, he added a summer camp, a weeklong river trip down the Green River. He also opened it up to teen amputees from all over the U.S. The camp, run through the nonprofit hospital, is no cost to participants allowing kids from a variety of backgrounds to participate. 

The name of the camp (suggested by a camper) became Un-Limb-ited. Lowell felt the name fit the mission of the camp perfectly. “They are unlimited; they can do whatever they want. They just have to figure out how,” Lowell said.

After long days on the slopes or rafting down the Green River, the evenings include staff-run therapeutic support groups. Many kids have expressed that for them, the support groups are the most important part of camp.

A team effort

Lowell doesn’t do it alone. The team who staff the camps are comprised of physical therapists, nurses, prosthetists, social workers and volunteers from the community. 

Tye McDonough, a professional ski instructor, has been volunteering at the camp since the beginning, serving as the photographer, documenting each life-changing week. McDonough loves seeing the kids learn the sport he loves and watches incredible things happen at each camp. “They feel accepted,” said McDonough. “They are family the first night they get here. They teach other how to get through life. Not only as an amputee, but as a teenager.”

It’s all about the kids

Oakley Doyle aged out of camp last year when she turned 18. She attended nine camps through those formative years. 

“Un-Limb-ited is honestly the best experience I’ve ever had,” Doyle said. “I would look forward to camp all year.” Doyle was born with PFFD and fibular hemimelia. She was born missing many bones in her foot and the ones she did have were fused together. Her family chose amputation in hopes that their daughter could live an active life and not be confined to a wheelchair. Doyle credits Un-Limb-ited camps for helping her feel comfortable talking about her amputation. “Camp has made me realize that it’s actually a blessing that I’m an amputee,” she said. “It just shows me that I can do a lot more than I understand that I can. Every single time I went to camp I would push myself more and more and I realize that I’m able to do what anybody else can do, I just have to do it in my own way. I would not be who I am today without it.”

After decades working with amputees, there is one thing Lowell wishes people understood about the amputee community. “They are amazing individuals,” Lowell said, “and more often than not they would prefer you come up and introduce yourself and talk to them about their amputation than just stare.”

To learn how to support camp Un-Limb-ited, visit shrinershospitalsforchildren.org/salt-lake-city/un-limb-ited.