#LimbLossAwareness Month

As these final days of April wind down to an end, I wanted to share some thoughts about what this month means to me. As some of you may know, from my shared thoughts from just one year ago, this month is #limblossawarenessmonth. A month that celebrates those living with limb loss and limb differences, and gives us a time to share our thoughts on what this all means to us.

For so many of us, including myself, living with limb loss was not something we ever expected ourselves to have to experience. It is often the result of the most traumatic experiences of our lifetime. Just as I never expected a vacation to be anything but exciting and safe, I never expected to wake up one day with both of my lower legs missing. It is something that I have had to adapt to, accept, and learn to not only survive, but somehow learn how to truly live again.

Last year, when this month of April came around, I was still dealing with all of the raw emotions I had not quite learned how to handle. Feelings of embarrassment and shame. I felt scared most days after seeing just how brutal and painful life can sometimes be. I dealt with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), terrifying nightmares and memories, anxiety, and depression. This year, I am proud to say that I have not only learned to manage these emotions, but I have found new experiences, new friendships, and new activities that have allowed me to finally feel as though I am not simply getting through each day, but that I am now enjoying the days. I see the simple pleasures of each day, and I chase after new and exciting opportunities.

This year, although better in so many ways, has also brought along even more challenges. This year I am no longer a bilateral below-knee amputee, as I was just last April. This year I am now an above knee amputee. A change that brought along heartbreak as I discovered that this level of amputation brought along a whole new level of challenge. When I first lost my legs, it was not a choice I had to make. It was something I woke up to, and had no choice other than to learn to manage with this new scenario in front of me. This amputation, although it felt necessary, was technically an elective amputation. A choice that opened my eyes to the strength it requires to make a choice such as this one, and opened my eyes to the available support and love from everyone around you in this amputee community.

When I went into my surgeon’s office that day, for a simple follow-up appointment, I had not expected to hear what I heard that day, “I think it is in your best interest to amputate to an above-knee level,” he said to me.

As he said this to me, I looked down at my residual limb. The wound that he was looking at, was raw and red and once again, freshly opened. I had dealt with several infections, several rounds of antibiotics, countless appointments to wound care clinics, and had seen FIVE different surgeons as I begged them for radical surgical treatments to save my knee. 

This surgeon had a plain and simple answer –  amputate the knee. But it was not a plain and simple decision. It was a thought that went against all of my instincts, my brain screamed at me not to do it, that I couldn’t remove yet another piece of me. But I had strength knowing my surgeon had only my best interests at heart. I had strength knowing I had my community and a huge support system behind me. I had strength knowing I knew other above-knee amputees who had promised to help me in this new journey, and I had strength in myself. I knew that this was something that I could handle. So I did the surgery.

After the surgery, I expected everything to go smoothly. I was out of the hospital after only a one night stay, and my surgeon sent me home saying everything had gone beautifully. 

Then I got hit with an infection. One afternoon I found myself shaking, with a 104-degree temperature. My incision was swollen, infected, and the stitches had now burst open. We rushed to the hospital.

We had no idea that this one setback would be the first of so many.

My right leg now finally healed, I only had to wait one more week before I could get my new prosthesis and I would be back on two feet again. In that one week, my left leg had been wearing down in my prosthetic. I took my leg off one day, to look down, and see a brand new, terrifying wound on my only healthy limb.

Flashforward to appointments at the wound care clinic every other day, becoming my own nurse, and once again seeing every surgeon I could get in to, all to see that this wound was not going to heal on its own. I now made another appointment for surgery.

Not just one surgery, but the first in what would soon be a series of surgeries. Three surgeries later, and an eight-month recovery later, I finally was given two brand new prosthetic legs to take home. My muscles were weak, I was emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted. But I dove back into physical therapy, determined to get back to where I wanted to be.

I’m sharing this story this month because it shows the reality of what living with limb loss has been like for me. I didn’t wake up one day with my legs missing, get handed two prosthetic legs, and have it be smooth sailing from then on. I have had countless surgeries, countless setbacks, and more physical and emotional pain I had ever known someone could endure.

But through it all, I had the support of the medical community, my always-growing support system including my family, friends, all those in my hometown, and everyone that I have been lucky enough to come to know through my North Country Chevy family, and you all carry me through these tough times. These challenges have made me proud and thankful for my prosthetic legs. I no longer feel shame or try to hide them, I wake up every day excited to put them on. Thankful for what they will allow me to do, and ready to push myself to be better every day.

 #StefFindsNewRoads #StefStrong #NorthCountryChevyDealers

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