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The Long Journey to Walking Again...

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Michael's recovery time from his amputation surgery went quickly, and without any glitches. He was so happy to be able to turn over in bed without crying out in pain - A few weeks after his surgery, we went in to see his surgeon, to see about getting the prosthetic process started. The doctor seemed surprised that we brought up that possibility, and then said, "Oh, I guess you want to look 'normal' sitting in your wheelchair" - HUH??? I told the doctor that made no sense whatsoever, that actually a guy with a leg and a half would look more 'normal' being in a wheelchair!!! He referred us to a prosthetic office down the hill a bit, and we went to see them.

The first technician we saw seemed to concentrate more on Michael's left leg, which he hadn't been able to straighten completely for quite awhile - neurological issues, lack of PT, numerous reasons for the weakness. He ordered a pretty intricate brace for the left leg, which Michael wore every night when he got into bed. During the night, though, when it got too painful for him, he'd take it off. This technician also told us that before he could begin the prosthetic process, Michael would have to be able to stand at the parallel bars for 5 minutes, without holding on. OK, one leg is cut in half, and the other one is very weakened and doesn't straighten... Really???? Michael had an amazing PT guy, and he was getting him stronger and stronger every day. My husband got wood and built a parallel bar setup for in our carport, and Michael and his PT would work at getting him to stand. But it just wasn't going to happen.

He finally got to see an actual prosthetist, and they began constructing his prosthetic leg, and also having him work on the parallel bars at their office. This whole process took about 2 years, 3 or 4 prosthetic legs were constructed and reconstructed for Michael, and there were many changes in the staff - if I remember right, there were 4 different prosthetists that he worked with over those 2 years. They'd come, and then leave the company, or be transferred. With the last prosthetist, who we realized later had fitted Michael's leg for the prosthetic without having his liner on, and then repeatedly tried to jam the leg on him, we both kind of realized we were done at that office.

I made an appointment for him at UC Davis, where we had great trust in the doctor, who had a clinic for those using prosthetics! During that appointment, we met a PT, an OT, and a new prosthetist from the same company as the others, but a different location. They all agreed that Michael didn't need any surgery to make the legs easier to use, he just needed the legs to be made better for him. We made an appointment with the new prosthetist, and things started moving forward!!! There were maybe 3 sockets (the part on Michael's thigh) and a couple of different methods tried to keep the leg on. Over the period of a couple of years, Michael's needs changed, and so did his prosthetic. The prosthetist had wonderful bedside manner, truly cared about Michael and his progress, and worked very hard to get Michael to be as mobile as possible...

Michael's physical therapy sessions were over, as far as Medicare was concerned - you get a limited amount of time to get better, and then no more PT. But we had a special therapist, in our friend Tom McCoin - He wasn't going to give up on Michael, because he saw Michael's determination and courage. He came to our house a few times a week, on his own time, and would work with Michael on transferring, standing, and walking, using a walker. It was an amazing thing the first time I got to stand in front of Michael, with him standing, and look at him eye to eye. Tom would think of things to get Michael to try, to challenge him to progress even further. Eventually he suggested that Michael join the local gym, to build up his upper body, stretch his leg, and strengthen his left leg, to help support him when he stands.

And he does stand... And he walks... And he uses the treadmill... And he uses the cycling machine... And he practices walking up the few stairs next to the gym... He needs a walker to walk, and Tom is always there with him, holding on to the gait belt he has around Michael's waist - but these days he doesn't have to grip it quite as securely as he once did. And we've now got two "Get Up And Go" canes, which Michael is practicing on - again, in the safety of the gym, with Tom at his side. The managers and other clients of the gym are amazing people too - The love, support, and encouragement they show Michael makes him want to go back!! He can remember when he would only use 30 lbs of weight on a particular machine... now it's up to 130! And he looks at pictures of him from when he started there, and can definitely see the muscles he's built up since then.

I very often think back to that doctor who predicted that Michael would be a 'step above a vegetative state' - What a terrible prediction to make for a young man!! What if we'd just shrugged our shoulders and said, "OK, what do we do with him now??" No... I knew there was more inside of my son than that. And the more he tries and accomplishes, the more he tries and accomplishes...