July 5, 2013 at 5:12 PM ET
Using nothing but LEGO bricks and an indomitable spirit, a 31-year-old amputee from St. Louis has handcrafted a stand-in for her regular prosthetic leg. It works ... almost.
When a co-worker suggested the idea to Christina Stephens, she thought, "Man, that would be really neat, it would be fun," she told NBC News. "So I went home and did it."
The result appears in a time-lapse video on Stephens' YouTube page, which has recently crossed 600,000 views. As you can see below, the LEGO leg isn't quite functional — the foot just won't stay on.
But that hasn't stopped a flood of YouTube-ers from writing in with supportive comments — "You are truly an amazing woman!" — tips for improvement — "if you had ... used some glue" — and the requisite snark — "most people get upset when they walk on a Lego. :)"
Stephens built the leg in two hours over two days, from her own LEGO bricks, tubs of them that her mother collected from yard sales when Stephens was growing up. "That's probably a third of my whole collection," she said. "I have them stored in my basement for fun random projects like this — or for my future children."
In the meanwhile, Stephens has plans for a "LEGO Leg 2.0," which she wants to walk about in. "I'd probably have to stiffen the pylon part, reinforcing it with steel or carbon fiber or something," she said, adding that it would be "super fun" to wear it around town.
Coincidentally, Stephens' day job is to train people to correctly move their wheelchairs without injuring their hands and arms, as a researcher at the Human Performance Laboratory at Washington University in St. Louis. "We work primarily with helping people get more function out of their lives," she explained.
This past January, Stephens was under her car changing the brakes when the jack gave way, and her blue Prius landed on her foot and crushed it. When surgeons told her of the nerve damage to her foot, she studied her options, then elected to have them amputate her leg below the knee.
Soon after the incident, she decided to use her personal and professional experience to become an online resource for families or individuals faced with or dealing with limb amputation. "I want to help people and inspire people to be more comfortable with their own bodies if they have limb differences," she told NBC News.
She's open about the issue: On her right calf she has a vivid tattoo with a question mark and arrow that points sideways, towards the prosthetic on her left.
When she's not wearing or building a LEGO leg, Stephens can be found walking about in a newly-fitted carbon fiber socket at the end of which is a "carbon fiber foot, a miniature blade like the runners wear," she said.
If you want to know what that looks like, head over to Stephens' YouTube page where she explains how a regular prosthetic leg works as she takes one apart.