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Loss of limbs not end of life for amputees

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Awareness month brings attention to life-changing experience

By Marty Finley

Ricky Gabehart was looking ahead to a union with his customized leg prosthesis this week, years after he lost his left leg above the knee.

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Gabehart, a Campbellsville resident, walks with a limp on a beginner’s leg, which is a basic prosthetic with limited function and mobility. He has had to make due, though, since he lost his leg in 2010 after a trucking accident in Memphis, Tenn. His insurance has rejected his ongoing pleas to purchase a fully functioning prosthetic.

The tedious and frustrating exchanges seemed endless until Fisher & Hinnant, an orthotics and prosthetics company, stepped in on his behalf. With their help, he said, Gabehart has secured a prosthesis, which arrived this week.

His gratitude was evident, and he described the company’s staff as miracle workers.

“It’s like I want to get my life back,” he said. “It’s been three years of no life at all,” he said.

Donna Hinnant, of Fisher & Hinnant, said it is not unusual for insurance companies to refuse prosthetic limbs for patients, which can lead to years of physical and mental turmoil for those grappling with a life-altering situation.

“His situation is not unique,” Hinnant said. “His situation is a rule of thumb.”

Gabehart was one of several amputees welcomed during an open house earlier this week at HealthSouth Lakeview Rehabilitation Hospital in Elizabethtown. The event was held to draw attention to April’s Limb Loss Awareness Month and provide information and educational resources about prosthetics and how to cope with the loss of a limb, said Anabelle Burkett, a rehab liaison at HealthSouth. Mayor Edna Berger proclaimed April as Limb Loss Awareness Month in Elizabethtown.

Burkett said the 40-bed acute rehab hospital helps patients cope with losing a limb, showing them they can live a productive life after the tragic experience occurs. They also provide assistance on how to deal with the effects of ghost pain and other complications after an amputation, she said.

HealthSouth is pursuing a certification from the Joint Commission for its amputee program, which it already has for its stroke program, she said.

Charles Johnson has been wrestling with the sobering truth of losing his foot. A diabetic, the Campbellsville resident is being treated at HealthSouth after his foot was amputated roughly three weeks ago. Johnson contracted a sore on his left foot that refused to heal after he underwent a knee procedure, he said.

Though confined to a wheelchair Tuesday, he said the amputation has not slowed him down too much or rendered him incapable of living his life. He hopes one day to be eligible for a prosthetic foot.

“When I realized it was gone, it was just gone,” Johnson said.

He commended HealthSouth for its care and said the exercises they have assigned are helping him adjust by working his upper and lower body through strength training and calisthenics.

Some amputees refuse a prosthesis, Hinnant said, but they can assist those who want to rebuild their lives. Of the beginner’s leg, she said it can help amputees transition to a life without their limb and help determine what the best fit of prosthesis is for the patient based on their needs.

Gabehart said he customized his new leg with an artistic rendering accompanied by his nickname, “Crazy Train.” He considered the University of Kentucky logo, but joked doing so may jinx the athletic program’s winning percentage.

“I was afraid they’d never win another game,” he said, laughing. “Then I’d have to throw the leg away.”

Gabehart said he does not need the most expensive or technologically advanced leg on the market, but rather one that will allow him to re-engage life. Anything, he said, would beat giving up and settling for a wheelchair.

“I’ll crawl through here before I do that,” he said.

Marty Finley can be reached at 270-505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.