AURORA | When she was 20 weeks pregnant, Susan McGuire was faced with every parent’s nightmare.
Something was wrong.
After getting her first ultrasound, she was told to see a specialist due to an abnormality seen in the tiny, blurry image. Two days later, her pregnancy, and her world, pivoted down a new path.
“They said, ‘We can’t see a left hand or forearm,’ and I was pretty freaked out,” McGuire, an Aurora native, said. “I wasn’t doing drugs, there was no injury or condition, it just happened. And it was very, very difficult to deal with.”
That was 15 years ago, a few months before her daughter, Megan, was born with a congenital limb loss that left her without a left arm below the elbow.
Now, several prosthetics, a budding career in show business and years of working with the support group Colorado UnLimbited later, Susan is sharing her story with the world for the first time.
“It’s been very cathartic,” Susan said. “This is the first time I’ve written about finding out as a 20-week pregnant woman that I would have a baby missing a limb and how traumatic that was.”
Susan is one of several artists and writers featured in “Zeitgeist,” a staged reading of essays and creative works at the Aurora Cultural Arts District gallery by Collective Conscious, the ACAD’s newest artistic tenant. The production marks the first creative gathering hosted by Collective Conscious, which is headed by local writers and actors Tria Xiong and Sushma Bagga.
After co-founding Theatre Esprit Asia in 2013, both Bagga and Xiong have been active in the local arts district, producing shows centered on the Asian-American experience. But a growing desire to pursue projects outside of the Asiatic theater canon recently inspired the women to branch off from TEA and establish an organization with looser creative guard rails.
“It was a great experience with TEA, I just felt it was time to expand more,” Bagga said. “With the times that we are living in, I wanted to grow and include stories from other parts of the world as well.”
Though not yet a registered nonprofit, Bagga said that Collective Conscious is not interested in turning a profit and plans to donate the entirety of each show’s proceeds to a cause or person in need.
And for the infant group’s first show, Bagga merely had to look around her office at a local mortgage servicing company to find a deserving recipient of the ticket sales brought in by “Zeitgeist.” After meeting Susan at their mutual day job late last year, Bagga decided to give she and Megan the proceeds from the show in an effort to quell the costs tied to getting Megan a new prosthetic.
“I just thought it would be a good idea,” Bagga said. “Being a theater person myself, I know it is hard to make it, and Susan was telling me how (Megan) gets rejected at auditions because of her disability. I think it will improve her chances of being selected to be onstage.”
Though she’s had various false limbs in the past, Megan has gone four years without a properly fitted prosthetic due to frequent growth spurts and uncooperative health insurance. Susan said that she and her daughter are planning on meeting with surgeons from Utah this summer to discuss when Megan could be fitted for a new myoelectric arm, which uses sensors to make muscle twitches at the elbow clasp a robotic hand. The cost of the limb is between $20,000 and $25,000.
“I was very moved,” Susan said of Bagga and Xiong’s decision to donate the proceeds. “It was not something we had spoken or thought about doing.”
Megan, now a freshman at Vista PEAK Preparatory, said that she thinks the limb would help her earn more onstage roles in the metro area. She’s performed in several productions with Phamaly Theatre Company in recent years, and earlier this year was recognized by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts for her role as Ms. Potts in Vista PEAK’s production of “Beauty and the Beast.”
“Without my arm I definitely don’t fit a lot of the categories that directors are looking for,” Megan said. “It is something that stands in the way a little bit, not too much, but it’s something that people aren’t very educated about and something they don’t want to take a risk on.”
She added that she aspires to work with local veterans who have lost limbs at the soon-to-be-completed VA hospital in Aurora and let them know that life doesn’t end because of an amputation.
“I want to show them that it’s not over when you lose a limb and it doesn’t stand in the way of what you want to do, or it shouldn’t,” Megan said. “I want to show them that life shouldn’t stop, it just has to evolve a little bit.”