In early 2009, Diane was in agony. Her ankle, which had been badly broken in a skiing accident back in 1971, was causing her more pain that ever before. The initial repair after the accident was done using screws to hold the ankle bones together. In 1995, two bones in the ankle were fused to increase her range of motion and reduce the swelling and pain she had begun to experience. It worked well for years. “I didn’t even have a limp,” remembers Diane. But in 2007, Diane, who has always loved flowers, began doing a lot of landscaping in her large yard and found that her ankle didn’t tolerate all the angles of the sloped land she was working on. “It was always swollen and sore, so my doctor performed another surgery to reduce some of the bone spurs,” Diane recalls. “That was a nightmare. Afterwards, the pain was worse than ever.”
After a couple injections of steroids which did little to alleviate her pain, Diane sought a second opinion from another doctor. This doctor suggested that the ankle be totally fused or, if she wanted to be active again, to amputate the leg below the knee. “Ankle fusions make it hard to walk,” explains Diane. “My activity level would be greatly reduced if I took that route. I was already feeling pretty limited in my activities even though I was still working full-time as a labor and delivery nurse. I went home and told my husband and family that I had made the decision to amputate my leg.”
Diane’s husband had difficulty accepting her decision; he said he didn’t want her to be handicapped. “I was ready to do it because I was really tired of the pain,” says Diane. “So, I started taking him to amputee support group meetings to ask questions and learn from amputees. A few months later, during a vacation in Cancun, Mexico I was in so much pain that walking to the pool or beach brought tears to my eyes. I turned to my husband and said, ‘honey, you don’t want me to be handicapped, but I am more handicapped now than I will be after I have my leg amputated!’ He just looked at me without speaking, so I continued to explain how I felt and reminded him that he was not the one with the pain. It was then that he began to understand that an amputation was the best route to take.
I then attended the 2009 Amputee Coalition national conference in Atlanta, Georgia. I was the only “pre-amp” there and I learned so much. Some people thought that it would scare me, but it actually gave me the information I needed to go ahead with the decision to amputate. Sometimes I think it might have been easier not to have had a choice, but I did, and I was not afraid. I saw many people doing amazing things with their prostheses. I also spoke with Stan Patterson of Prosthetic & Orthotic Associates in Orlando, Florida at the recommendation of several people I met at the conference. I liked him from the beginning, but could not see a way to start out with a prosthetist who was so far from my home in Colorado, so I didn’t pursue it.”
On Sept. 1, 2009, Diane’s leg was amputated below the knee. Her recovery was good, although complicated by other surgeries such as a repair to her rotator cuff and a torn meniscus in her knee. “It all just made me tougher!”, Diane says with a grin. “I received my first pin system prosthesis two days after the shoulder surgery and I was very excited to try it. I did really well learning how to walk on it and returned to work as a nurse, working 4-hour shifts, a little over 5 months post-amputation. Then my residual limb started to blister and my left knee was really swollen, so I was taken off work again.”
“During the time I was off work, I attended the 2010 Amputee Coalition national conference in Irvine, California, where I participated in the gait evaluation and learned that even though my gait looked pretty good, the bulbous tissue and blisters that I was getting at the end of my residual limb were due to the pistoning and pulling of the pin liner. I again met with Stan Patterson and decided that I wanted to try his negative pressure vacuum system in the hope that it would alleviate those problems. The timing was perfect since he had recently partnered in a new practice closer to my home, Southern California Prosthetics (SCP). I received a tour of the facility and was very impressed, so decided to check it out. The wonderful staff fit me with my first negative pressure vacuum prosthetic in December of 2010. I have not had any blisters or irritations of my skin since using this system. I simply love it! “
“I have received followup care at SCP, and find the environment to be very friendly and family oriented. My husband went with me for my first adjustment and enjoyed every minute he was there because he met so many great amputees and a staff who work so well with them and their families. He learned a lot by watching and listening, and was fascinated to see how the prostheses were made. SCP’s staff members are so good at educating everyone who wants to learn! As hesitant as my husband was for me to go through with the amputation, I would say that because of my great care, he is a total believer now. Through the process of working with me as I learned to walk with a prosthesis, he has observed first hand how having an amputation does not hinder a person’s life – it adds joy to it. My prosthesis works so well that I receive numerous comments from people about how they never would have known that I am an amputee if they couldn’t see it. I am back working as a nurse, exercising at the gym, and I have a pretty fulfilling life.”
I feel very blessed to have met this group of caring and talented people. It is like having a huge extended family.