CHICAGO -- After some inner turmoil and much self-reflection, 15-year-old Seth Melvin says he's ready to lose his right leg.
His words make his parents cringe.
"I just want to get it chopped off," he says occasionally.
It's a decision that's been looming for much of his life.
Doctors recommended amputation in infancy, when Seth was born with a deformed leg and foot. But his father refused, in part because he felt the decision wasn't theirs to make. Because it was Seth's leg, his dad reasoned, the choice to keep or lose the limb rightfully belonged to Seth.
The condition worsened over the years until the teen had to face the dilemma anticipated since his birth. At an age when most weighty decisions involve class schedules and after-school sports, Seth had to pick between rounds of surgery to elongate his leg or having the lower portion cut off and replaced with a prosthesis.
He sought advice from other amputees and read first-person accounts to learn what to expect after a limb is gone. He touched samples of the sleek, modern prostheses that could one day serve as his new leg. And he began to emotionally detach from his own flesh.
Though more than 2 million Americans have lost a leg or arm, it's rarer for a teen to have to decide whether to keep or lose a limb, said Dr. Terrence Sheehan, medical director of the Amputee Coalition in Virginia. Often the choice is made by doctors and parents when the patient is too young to have a say, or amputation comes suddenly and without much choice through illness or trauma.
But Sheehan said the opportunity to make such an intimate and permanent decision can be empowering, even in the midst of such a great loss.
"I want it gone, honestly," Seth said matter-of-factly, anticipating his March 6 surgery in Springfield, Ill. "I get to choose. I feel bad for people who didn't want to lose their leg."