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Life after limb loss: Carla’s story

Carla was just a teenager when her leg was amputated. Today the active skier, bicyclist and outdoor enthusiast leads U-M’s amputee support group

carla3I began to dance at the age of 5, ballet and tap, then eventually jazz. I thought maybe one day I would be a professional dancer.

What was initially dismissed as intense growing pains turned out to be much worse – a cancer in my knee called osteogenicsarcoma that had spread so far that there was only one way to save my life. I still remember the punched-in-the-gut feeling as I slowly processed the word that came out of the doctor’s mouth: amputation. It was devastating.

At age 13, I became an amputee. I thought my life was over.

There were dark days. During what was already an emotional and awkward phase of adolescence I was losing my hair due to cancer treatment and coping with the trauma of losing a limb. There was the self-consciousness of going to school with an artificial leg and fear of being stared at everywhere I went. There was frustration over re-learning daily tasks I’d done so easily before. Most heartbreaking of all, I had to give up what I loved most: dancing.

I was lucky to be surrounded by supportive family and friends but also to gain another incredibly powerful network: other amputees and other kids with cancer and other diseases. Not only was there a much bigger and more diverse community of people with similar experiences than I could have ever imagined but people were living full, active and rich lives. A key part of my healing process was the realization that I was not alone.

I began to accept my artificial leg. I went back to doing things I loved and even tried new things I’d never done. I got back on a bike, went canoeing and kayaking. I even learned to ski. Today, I spend most of my free time outside enjoying many of these activities.

See video of Carla talking about getting back on a bike for the first time after her amputation.

For the last year, I’ve also led the University of Michigan U-Can amputee support group where people who have experienced limb loss in all different phases of life can come together to share their own stories. This is a safe place where there is a genuine understanding, no need to explain and no fear of feeling different. Group members discuss everything from how they lost their limb and how they’ve managed it to issues like insurance coverage for devices. We talk about our challenges and triumphs, hear from experts and of course make new friends.

 

The Limb Loss Event is June 21, 2014.

Click this image to register for the Limb Loss Event.

At our first limb loss event co-sponsored by the U-M Health System and St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor on June 21, we hope to bring this community together from near and far.  We will hear from keynote speaker Chad Crittenden, the first amputee to compete on the show Survivor who completed an inspiring list of athletic accomplishments after his own amputation. We will also have the opportunity to hear from top experts on how to improve our health and to learn about all of the resources available to people with limb loss.

Hearing you need an amputation is a terrifying moment. So many fears cross your mind like whether you’ll be able to take care of yourself, what it will feel like, and how your life will change. I still remember waking up after my surgery and mourning the loss of my leg. I recognize the same fear among others I meet who are newly adjusting to limb loss. Finding a supportive network and learning about the rich pool of available resources can help bring people the encouragement they need.

We hope our limb loss event will help people connect with each other, learn how to improve their health and focus on the many things they can do. Circumstances may not be ideal but I no longer look at losing my leg as an end to anything. It was a new beginning.

Take the next step:


Carla VollmerCarla Vollmer is the Limb Loss Support Coordinator of U-CAN at the University of Michigan Community Amputee Network

 

 

 

 

UMHS logoThe U-M Orthotics and Prosthetics Center takes a multidisciplinary approach to care, working with patients to formulate and implement the best treatment plan according to their goals, activity level and lifestyle.