A Brush With Death
In 2006 Michael developed a septic blood infection stemming from a case of Strep Throat. Combating the blood-borne illness proved to be extremely difficult. In fact, doctors warned Michael’s family on three different occasions to prepare for him to die. The grave situation called for drastic measures. In an effort to save his life, doctors pushed large quantities of antibiotic filled fluids, called vasopressors, toward his vital organs, hoping to raise his blood pressure.
The antibiotics eventually worked to jump start his vital organs, but as a result of the strenuous procedure, circulation to his extremities was greatly compromised. Gangrene set in Michael’s legs. Doctors had to act fast. Emergency amputations were performed on both legs six inches below his knees.
Goal One: Move Toward Walking
While the outcome of his illness was not ideal, Michael chose to start working on walking again. He made some progress, but kept feeling like there was more that he could be doing. Michael’s mom started looking for new below the knee prosthetics. She gave her son Rob’s number at SPS, and early one morning Michael found time to call and leave a message. “I called and at 7AM Rob answered the phone. I was caught off guard because I thought I’d be leaving a message, and he wanted to talk to me about my case.”
The level of commitment that Rob showed towards Michael that day has not wavered. Michael says, “The process of becoming a new patient was very personal. Rob gets to know you before starting to talk about the legs. He gages what you do and what your life is like. The first thing he does is gather information about you. He wants to build what you need for your day-to-day purposes.”
Goal Two: Walk Without Assistance
When Michael first met Rob, he was walking slowly using two canes. “I didn’t want to have to use canes or walkers. When I met with Rob the first appointment, he saw my potential and knew that I was going to walk without assistance. He wasn’t going to give up, and neither was I.” At the time, Michael’s residual limbs had several severe structural issues. Both limbs had developed open wounds (caused by the constant downward pressure imposed by internal cut ends of his bones). His muscles were inactive, and one knee had lost range of motion forming a flexion contracture. “Irregularities can make things complicated, but Rob is always super creative and makes me feel like my challenges and my input are all part of the process. His ability to adjust and get feedback about how my prosthetics are interacting with me is amazing. That day was the beginning of a long relationship.”
It was that specialized care that helped Michael to achieve his first goal. In a quiet moment at work, he took his first steps without using a cane. Michael recalls the feeling of that moment, “I’m bi-lateral, so that’s amazing, but with SPS your goals are just right around the corner.”
Goal Three: Attend a Crowded NASCAR Race
As a long-time race fan, Michael asked Rob to help him plan to go to a NASCAR race in Indianapolis. It was a big part of his life that had been missing since he had become a bilateral amputee, and Michael wanted it back. When race day arrived, Michael was able to confidently navigate crowds and bleachers without canes. He felt like himself again.
Goal Four: Engage With My Kids Physically
Michael says that he could not wait to pick up his daughter again. She was four at the time he lost his legs. Today, Michael is able to actively play with his 10 and 7 year old. They are a source of encouragement for him to keep doing the hard work it takes to remain mobile. Michael wears his prosthetics as he rides bikes, works out, and keeps up with the kids in his school.
A Long Term Plan
Together, Rob and Michael determined that for long-term stability, quality of life and comfort, it was in Michael’s best interest to look into having the problematic anatomical structures of his residual limbs reconstructed. That’s when Rob suggested they meet with Dr. Jan Ertl in Indianapolis. Eventually, with Dr. Ertl’s expertise, the team decided that Michael should have an osteomyoplastic revision of both his limbs. Rob not only made the trip for Michael’s consultation, but he was also there for the surgeries.
Michael says, “Rob is so involved. He was always there. He’s really good about gauging how people are feeling and reacting appropriately. My family was at the hospital. They were all scared because the last time they were all there, they thought I was going to die. Rob didn’t try to intervene with the family until they asked him to. He gave us the space we needed, and was very supportive.”
Recovery and Strength
Rob stayed very connected to Michael after surgery, “There is a window of healing that is 6-8 weeks after the Ertl procedure. Rob followed up over and over to make sure I was healing and kept encouraging me along the way.”
The surgery was a success, and fitting new prosthetics came next. Michael says the difference was noticeable right way. “My gate changed. Now it looks much more normal than it looked before. The procedure allows me to withstand a lot more end-bearing pressure than I could take before. I can walk on ends of my residual limbs when I’m inside. I can walk down the hall in my house to the kid’s rooms. That’s one of the biggest separations the Ertl procedure provided–it’s really just like having normal legs. My gate looks and feels more natural.”
Those Aren’t Michael’s Business Cards
Often, when Michael encounters another amputee or someone with very limited mobility he makes a bold move. “I walk up and ask them ‘when was the last time you took a step on your own?’ Usually they start crying. They start to ask me questions. I guess a guy with flames on his prosthetics is pretty obviously willing to talk about them. I tell them that they could be walking again in 6 months to a year if there are no medical barriers in the way. I’m sure to say that everyone is different, so medical barriers can make it take longer. I end by handing them a business card–not mine, Rob’s.”
Deeper Than a Typical Patient Relationship
Michael appreciates the way he is treated at SPS. He laughs, and then turns serious, “Patty is nuts in the best way. I love her. She is kind of a work horse. She does the office work, but the minute that Rob needs her, she comes running. Everyone knows they can count on her. She is very engaged. They are both extremely sweet people. Our conversations aren’t just about prosthetics or life as an amputee. We talk about what is really important to us, too–our faith and families. I cannot imagine a better team.”
“Doctors warned Michael’s family on three different occasions to prepare for him to die.”
“I didn’t want to have to use canes or walkers. When I met with Rob the first appointment, he saw my potential and knew that I was going to walk without assistance. He wasn’t going to give up, and neither was I.”
“I’m bi-lateral, so that’s amazing, but with SPS your goals are just right around the corner.”