It was by accident that Shubert Chang chose a career in the medical profession. He lost his left leg in a motorcycle wreck in North Miami Beach when he was 15.
“That sent my career down a different road,” Chang said.
But it was no accident that Chang became a top pediatric prosthetist/orthotist in South Florida, serving more than 10,000 children, mostly special-needs kids at his Davie-based Dynamic Orthopedics. He had been in their shoes — literally — and he knew what it was like to experience a life-changing moment at a young age.
“I’ve been there,” he said.
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But he won’t be there to help anymore. After returning from a week-long trip to Taiwan, Chang collapsed on Aug. 23 at his Plantation home and died of heart failure. He was 47.
Chang leaves behind a wife, Melisa, a physical therapist who met Shubert after she lost her lower right leg in a motorcycle accident when she was 19; daughters Cameryn and Amanda; several other family members; and thousands of South Florida disabled children who have been counting on his expertise and sense of humor for 13 years.
“This is a big loss to this community I don’t think will ever be filled,” said Dr. Michael Tidwell, an orthopedic surgeon at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, formerly Miami Children’s Hospital, who has been referring clients to Chang for more than a decade. “I considered him a friend.”
Chang’s practice knew no boundaries. He would treat kids who didn’t have insurance or Medicaid. And if they couldn’t make it to his office, he would come to them.
Chang visited about 12 facilities, as far north as Melbourne and as far south as the Keys, to make the constant, necessary adjustments. Early in his career, he would even visit homes of children who were on ventilators and couldn’t be transported.
“I can say, after more than 30 years working as a pediatric physical therapist, no one else could do what he did,” said Mary Pengelley, who worked with Chang at the ARC of Palm Beach County. “I can also say with absolute certainty, that no one person I know has had a greater positive impact on children with special needs than Shubert.”
Elizabeth Keith, a pediatric physical therapist who owns Young Bodies Rehabilitation in Palm Beach Gardens, also worked with Chang for more than two decades.
“Shubert was very good at his craft,” Keith said. “And he was never afraid to try new things. Shubert was one of a kind.”
Chang was born in Hong Kong and moved to the United States when he was 7. He was always mechanically inclined, taking his toys apart and putting them back together again.
He was a member of the North Miami High wrestling team when he had his motorcycle accident. He spent seven weeks in a hospital and developed three infections that eventually forced doctors to amputate his left leg below the knee.
Chang graduated from Florida International University in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in prosthetics and orthotics. He initially saw going to school as a means to help him make his own prosthetic leg better.
While in college, he met Melisa for the first time. Three years after her amputation, she was attending the physical therapy program at FIU and was told the students making prosthetics needed people to practice making legs on.
“When I walked into the room, their jaws dropped because they saw a young woman,” Melisa Chang said. “They were used to working on war veterans. When I first met Shubert, I didn’t know he didn’t have a leg, either. That wasn’t what attracted me to him.”
They started dating, got married in 1995 and opened Dynamic Orthopedics in 2002. She knew why her husband connected so easily with children going through such traumatic ordeals as a lost limb or a disability.
“He remembers the day when he was sitting in the waiting room in the CMS clinic,” she said. “He had to go to Miami Jackson for the amputation. He identifies with the kids, and they identify with him.”
Melisa Chang said she would sometimes question her husband when he gave away free orthotics even though the child had insurance, but knew he wouldn’t change his mind.
“He would say, ‘His mom just lost her job’ or he would know something else about the family or the child,” she said. “Shubert cared about the child, not about the brace or how he was seen in the community.”
Services were held. In lieu of flowers, the family has asked all donations be made to www.helpcp.org under the tag “Shubert’s Kids” and these donations will be used to help needy patients at Dynamic Orthopedics.