DALLAS (AP) - As a kid in the 1970s, Robert Carlile would roam the hallways of Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children and tell workers: I'm going to come back and work for you.
Today, from his basement workshop, Carlile makes arms and legs for children at the hospital where he was once a patient.
He works alongside Don Cummings, who fits patients with prosthetic body parts, and Don Virostek, who helps children find the right body braces.
The three workers have a special connection with the young amputees who are fitted with legs and feet, arms and hands.
They are amputees, too.
When the three men were younger, they made connections with others who made prostheses. Those experiences inspired them to get into the field.
They say it's their way of giving back.
"Somebody helped me to get me where I am," Carlile said. "I'm using that to help kids get to where they want to be."
Of course, not everyone who makes prostheses at Scottish Rite is an amputee. But amputees say their experiences of getting new body parts, as well as replacement pieces through the years, made a lasting impression.
Carlile says he practically grew up at Scottish Rite. He was born with a deformed right foot due to amniotic band syndrome, when amniotic bands form at the extremities and choke off growth. But after nearly 50 operations, Carlile's foot was amputated in 1973.
He was 10.
His first prosthesis was a simple leather boot. It allowed him to move around with ease. (In 2001, his right leg was amputated below the knee due to a bone infection.)
As a kid, Carlile often tore up his new foot while jumping from trees or roofs. He would watch the Scottish Rite workers make repairs.
"At 10, that was exciting," he said.
When Carlile was a kid, a Scottish Rite official told him: Whenever you want a job, just call me.
So, in 1982, when Carlile turned 18, he picked up the telephone. A week later, he landed in the prosthetics department, helping to laminate and shape legs.
Carlile, now the prosthetics lab manager, has created ballet legs fitted to wear pointe shoes for a girl who wanted to dance. He's made electric arms.
Recently, as Carlile worked in his shop, prosthetic body parts rested on a counter. Drawers were filled with screwdrivers, files, wrenches, hammers and pliers - the tools that Carlile uses to sculpt his pieces.
"I made something, and he's going to use that during his life to do whatever he wants to do," Carlile said. "It makes you feel good, makes you excited, makes you want to keep going."
But Carlile, 48, said it's tough to see the kids when they get old enough and have to leave Scottish Rite.
"I'm a crybaby," he said. "The tears start flowing, and the hugs start coming. You're just connecting with them because you've had 18 years to work with them, in some cases. You build a certain bond with them. They're counting on you to make their life better."
When Don Cummings meets a patient for the first time, he'll wait for the right, quiet moment.
First, he'll show off one prosthetic leg to the patient and the family. Then he'll show off the other.
"I always show it to them because somehow it's more powerful," said Cummings, the hospital's director of prosthetics. "They really grasp it."
Some will want to touch a leg or hold it. Then the questions start flowing: Will I be able to meet someone and get married?
Cummings, who did marry, tells them that being an amputee helped him "weed out the ones I didn't want to get to know anyways."
He tells kids that having a fake limb isn't going to make a difference. What matters is their personality. Have confidence, he tells them. Don't feel ashamed or embarrassed.
Both of Cummings' legs were amputated below the knees after he contracted bacterial meningitis in college in the '70s. He met the man who made his first pair of prostheses, a World War II veteran who lost a foot in Normandy. Cummings learned more about prosthetics and was intrigued.
Cummings said that being an amputee doesn't make him better at his job than others. But it does give him empathy.
"Losing my limbs was a pretty intense experience," he said. "It's lifelong. It's a chronic condition. You always have it. Being able to meet someone else, you compare notes. 'How does your leg fit? What was it like for you?' "
Cummings, 52, rattles off stories of child amputees who've inspired him. But he's left an impression on them, too.
A reporter tells Cummings about a boy profiled in The Dallas Morning News about 20 years ago whose legs were burned in a house fire. Cummings fitted him with artificial legs. Without hesitating, Cummings remembers the boy.
"I want to make artificial legs for people to walk on, too,'" the boy told The News. "I want to be just like Don Cummings."
Some former patients have returned to do internships, learning about prosthetics and orthotics.
A former patient is back doing a clinical rotation at Scottish Rite. He wants to be a prosthetic technician.
Don Virostek, the director of orthotics, made his leg.
"You see somebody like that and you see them grow up and you see the man he's becoming," he said. "He's a good person, and you just root for that."
Virostek was a teenager when his left leg was amputated below the knee due to fibrous dysplasia, a bone disease. Later, he was invited to take a closer look inside the prosthetics shop that made his leg. He knew what he was going to do with his life. Virostek, 46, joined Scottish Rite in 1989.
"I hope, one day, I can look back on my life and say, 'Man, what I did made a difference,'" he said.
Sometimes, Virostek meets with children and their families as they debate whether to undergo an amputation. Virostek says he never tells them what he thinks they should do. Instead, he shares his experience.
For the children who do go through with an amputation, getting fitted with prostheses are special moments.
Kids offer broad smiles as they see their new body parts for the first time. They try them on. Then, using their new legs, they run on to Virostek and give him hugs.
"You can't beat that," he said.