Amputees find support, community in Woodstock group
By Jessica Wiant -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WOODSTOCK -- Beverly Fleming lost his hand in a farm accident when he was just a boy. Warren Richard, lost his leg a few years ago due to an infection in his toe.
People become amputees for different reasons -- as varied as the result of diabetes, traffic accidents and even in combat -- but each person faces similar issues, according to Dr. Kyla Sine, a physical therapist at Shenandoah Memorial Hospital.
"There was no support structure for people with amputations in this area, so I wanted to help bring people together in this area," Sine wrote in a summary about the group.
Additionally, the number of amputees seems to be on the rise, according to Sine, a result of rising instances of obesity and diabetes.
So, earlier this year, Sine helped form a support group for amputees. The group held its third meeting last week.
"There's something that transcends what I know from my training," Sine said, "There's something about being with people in similar situations and learning from each other."
The period of adjustment between amputation and getting fitted for a prosthetic is difficult, according to the group.
"It's a long process before you actually get your prosthetic," Sine said.
For Richard, whose right leg was amputated in December 2006, it took about six or seven months to get a new one, then there was the period of getting used to it.
"I fell a lot," he said. "I had trouble."
But beyond the months-long process of working with a prosthetist to choose and create a prosthetic limb and rounds of physical therapy, there are continuing challenges to face, members of the group explained. Adjusting to going places in public, properly avoiding blisters, wound care and dealing with curious looks are all among them.
"It's always something different every day," Richard said.
Perhaps the most talked about phenomenon group members deal with has to do with something that remains even after the wounded limb is gone: the feeling.
Fleming, having had a prosthetic hand for more than 70 years, says he's pretty well adjusted to life with it.
"For years I have not even considered this a handicap," Fleming said. "It's me."
Even he, however, continues to experience the feeling as if his hand were still there -- "phantom pain" -- all these years later.
Janet Sibert, who had a leg amputated several years ago, said she was happy to know she was not the only one.
"You don't feel as alone," she said.
Sibert said the No. 1 thing she wishes people would realize is that prosthetic users cannot "stop on a dime" the same way everyone else can. She urges others to give prosthetic users a little more space to walk or get out of their vehicle.
"It's a great leg but it's not the real one," she said.
Certain places are simply out of reach for amputees.
Sibert said she's gone to fewer school events to see her granddaughter, and Richard, who still hunts and gardens and does most any other typical activity, can point to sidewalks where he isn't able to walk.
A special driver's licenses and equipment make it possible for Richard to continue to drive his truck with his left foot, and both he and Sibert explain that to do something as simple as go sit on the porch, you have to plan ahead.
The support group serves as a venue for them to talk about their struggles, and share tips for ways they've found to cope.
An example of a tip they recently discussed is that curbside voting is available for those with a disability.
Amputees can face psychological obstacles as well.
"You've got to conquer your mind," Sibert said.
"It is what it is," he said. "You can do whatever you set your mind to. It's like anything else."
Talking about the prosthetic equipment itself also takes place. Members can compare features, and Sibert discovered that much more was available than what she had any idea about.
Information about what's out there is relevant even for longtime amputees because prosthetics don't last forever.
Weight loss, wear or other body changes can make a new prosthetic necessary, they explained. A prosthetic leg might only last a couple of years, Sine said, and it's "not something simple like changing a shirt, but this is people's mobility we're talking about."
The group might also be beneficial to spouses and caregivers of amputees, who have their own set of issues to face, Sine said.
Mainly, it's a place to express what's going on in their lives, Sibert said.
The support group is open to amputees and their spouses or caregivers and meets every other month in the Rehabilitation Services center at Shenandoah Memorial Hospital. The next meeting will be held on Jan. 19, 2012, at 10 a.m. For more information, email Sine at email@example.com.