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Teen gets new leg and new life

Tiffany Moe of Detroit Lakes, Minn. received a Helix 3-D Hip Joint and computer-controlled C-Leg to help her walk after battling cancer. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

People who know Tiffany Moe best don't notice her new artificial leg as much as her new lifestyle and outlook on life.

Today, the Detroit Lakes 18-year-old is sober, clean, cancer-free -- and happy.

"She's gone from lacking direction and vision for herself, and not having a lot of hope and ambition for her future, to having a lot of enthusiasm about life," said Brad Laabs, recovery school coordinator at Detroit Lakes Area Learning Center. "(She's) really a different person."

Four years ago, Moe was an angry, depressed 14-year-old. Bouncing between foster families and skipping class, she sought refuge in pain pills, cutting her arms, using pot and drinking heavily.

"I couldn't get up without pills and go to sleep without pills," she said.

When she started having reoccurring hip pain, she dismissed it as a result of drugs. Doctors eventually diagnosed the pain as a cancerous tumor on her hip.

Unsuccessful chemo-therapy and other treatments left her with one option: amputate her right leg.

As a result of the extensive amputation from her hip joint, doctors told Moe she'd never walk again.

But they probably hadn't heard a saying among those who know her well: "You don't tell Moe no."

"She's tough," said Fargo prosthetist Mike Filloon.

While she was battling her drug and alcohol addictions, a fellow amputee suggested Moe see Filloon, of Great Plains Health Co. in Fargo. He knew of a prosthetic for amputees who had lost legs at the hip joint.

Last October, Filloon equipped Moe with the Helix 3-D Hip Joint and computer-controlled C-Leg, made by Minneapolis-based Otto Bock HealthCare. She was the first person in North Dakota to receive it, he said.

"Such a small percentage of people who lose a leg at the hip can walk (again)," Filloon said. "It's given her the ability to do anything anyone else can do."

Moe can now walk without crutches, drive to school and even walk a half-mile each day on a treadmill.

That's just the beginning of how life has drastically changed for the teen this year.

"I was just so sick of always messing up relationships and losing trust," Moe said of the effects of drugs.

That's why, while attending a Christian retreat, she said newfound spirituality inspired her to abandon her addictions.

"There's no way that I just decided to change like this; it has to have been from help from God," she said.

She's now sober and clean.

"I'm pretty proud of myself," she said.

After school, she works at a community center adjacent to Detroit Lakes alternative high school. She's found a family in new foster parents and has made up a year of school in the alternative high school program.

In May, she'll graduate with her peers and then plans to attend a Christian college to study ministry.

As for her 18-pound artificial leg, "it's just who I am," Moe said.

Those who know her well say it's her change in lifestyle and outlook -- not her prosthetic -- that has made such a difference in her life.

"Without being clean, I don't think she would be creating some of the success she's had now," Laabs said. "She's kind of had to battle demons on all levels."

In her extraordinary journey the past year, what Moe has overcome has taught her, she said, to now walk with confidence.

"I'm a totally different person this year," she said. "I care about life, I have compassion for people ... (and) I'm happier than I have ever been."

Kelly Smith is a writer for The Forum, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.