When I first became an amputee back in 1978, rehabilitation was a lonely experience for me. No one in my neighborhood was an amputee. No one in my school was an amputee. No one in my family was an amputee. I had so many questions about living with limb loss but no one to answer them. Questions like how will I drive a car? Will I ever be able to swim? Can I participate in sports? Will girls like me? The lack of organized support groups in the late 70’s not only affected me, but the disabled community as a whole. Don’t get me wrong, there were a few mom & pop groups assembled here and there. Most were vocational in nature. But nothing that promoted activity and getting back to a somewhat normal life, which was what I was in desperate need of. Today there are numerous amputee support groups both small and large all across the world that offer guidance and education to those who have recently lost a limb. The Amputee Coalition Of America is a non profit group who’s mission is to reach out to people living with limb loss and empower them through education, support and advocacy. On May 2, 2015 I attended the ACA’s Limb Loss Education Day in Washington DC.
40 amputees and over 100 volunteers attended the event which also featured a running and mobility clinic. Amputees of all ability levels took part in the clinic which focused on improving overall walking ability and running for those who felt confident enough to try. Running as an amputee wasn’t something that was particularly popular in the late 70’s due to the lack of highly advanced prostheses. Back then my prosthetic legs were heavy and clunky and they didn’t stay on very well. Today, prosthetic technology has advanced by leaps and bounds and we see amputees of all ages doing all sorts of incredible things like snowboarding, rock climbing, running marathons, surfing, gymnastics, skydiving, you name it. I often times make the comment “if you have to lose your leg, this is not a bad time to have it happen!” In some instances, new amputees actually rehabilitate into stronger more driven individuals. It’s like the amputation gives them a chance to show the world, and more importantly themselves, what they are truly made of. They develop a confidence and an inner strength that they didn’t even know was inside of them until after their amputation. This inner strength is something that exists inside of all human beings. He wonderfully created us like that. But often times we don’t realize how strong we are until being strong is our only option.
The ACA’s Limb Loss Education Day gives people a chance to meet with and talk to each other about the challenges that they face as amputees, not only physical but psychological. Sometimes the deepest most painful scars are the ones that you can’t see. The ones that leave you feeling “less than” or “not enough.” Those are the most debilitating and depressing. When I came home from the hospital after my accident, I remember being called “crippled” & “handicapped.” That was the label back then. I remember how that made me feel and the hurt that it left in my heart. It was like I was different. Like society had already made up its mind about what I was capable of achieving in life. That I would always need help or special assistance in doing things. That pain drove me to become an overachiever in life. No a super achiever! I refused to fall victim to that type of thinking.
It’s amazing what we human beings can accomplish in the face of adversity. No longer do I feel marginal due to social stigma. Today I proudly show my prosthetic legs and all of my scars because I am a survivor and my purpose is to use my life to inspire others to believe in themselves and their abilities despite the challenges we all face. Did I ever feel less than? Sure I did. Especially early into my amputation. But that’s when my spiritual beliefs and family support carried me through. Spirituality and peer support is some of the greatest healing therapy there is. I guess you can tell that the topic of amputee support groups stir up a lot of emotions and insight on my part. Whatever you’re dealing with in life; the loss of a loved one, a social injustice, a disease, a chemical dependance, a financial setback, whatever the case may be, someone else has been where you are and knows your pain. They can speak your language and offer guidance and help you heal. Reaching out and finding that support system could very well save your life. And life is the greatest gift that there is!