CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There are a lot of firsts for Hailey Cruse these days.
Cruse is a Denver middle schooler who made a brave decision to have her dysfunctional legs amputated. She started walking upright just before Thanksgiving.
Thursday was the first time she used her new prosthesis to walk up a step.
The 13-year-old has a birth defect: her bones don't form properly.
“She was always crunched over; I describe her as the hunchback,” mom Misty Casteen says.
“My knees used to touch the ground a lot, and it hurt,” Cruse says of growing up.
For years she faced incredible pain.
Casteen says, “She was always in excruciating pain; she always had a smile on her face, but she was always in pain.”
Casteen suffers her own quiet pain.
“It’s terrible; you want to take their pain away, but you can't, and yet you know that you also caused their pain in a way, too.”
Casteen also has what's called Skeletal Polysyndactyly. So does Cruse's 10-year-old brother Peyton.
“I saw how my brother got around, and he got around pretty well; I thought I could do the same things,” Cruse said.
Doctors amputated Peyton's legs when he was three, and that gave Cruse an idea that her doctors were unsure of.
She asked to have her own two legs amputated.
“I was sad because I was losing my legs, but happy I could do the stuff that other people could do.”
“That’s a very mature decision she had to make at a very young age,” says Ben Walker, one of the people helping with her prosthesis.
“I think she's brave.”
Mom agrees. “She’s always been brave. She’s always been a tough little trooper; she's always been tough.”
Cruse is just excited.
“I got to stand up and walk without my back bending over, and I don’t have legs that hurt me all the time.”
And she has big plans now: Cruse wants to join the school's wrestling and soccer teams next year.