Tuesday, November 9, 2010 arrived with a clear early morning that promised to become a chilly, sunny, and typically autumn day. I zipped my coat, buckled my helmet strap, unlocked my bike, and headed off to work. A few minutes later, a garbage truck crossed a bike lane to make a right turn. I was in that bike lane. The tires of the truck crushed my left leg and caused other internal injuries. An amazing team of trauma surgeons saved my life, but they had to amputate my leg to do so.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Confucius.

In July 2011, I set off to walk a thousand miles as an above-knee amputee in my new prosthesis. The journey has held more twists, turns, and detours than I ever imagined.

I reached Mile 1000 on March 30, 2013.

But of course, that wasn't the end.

I'll keep walking!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Winter Break

Mile Marker 1525:  

...and the top is down!
This time of year, a cold day in Florida is better than a warm day in Philly.


My windbreaker is zipped to the chin, and my gloves are on.  Dad's even wearing a sweater!  But who cares?  The sun is bright, the sky is blue...

At Mile Marker 1525, we're speeding along I-4 toward Clearwater.  Actually, our rental car – a suave Mustang convertible – is programmed to stay below 80 m.p.h.  So we're not really speeding.  On this fast-paced straightaway, we're hugging the right lane!

At the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, a rescue center for injured sea life, we gather on the wooden poolside benches.  Visitors around us are sporting the latest in Florida ski hats.  But the dolphins don’t mind the weather at all.

The most famous one in the pool, aptly named WINTER, swims gracefully, poking her smiling face through the water's surface.

She's beautiful, and I can't take my eyes off her.

It's like meeting a movie star
and a mentor all in one!
Remember the movie Dolphin Tale?  As a calf, Winter got her tail caught in a crab trap.  The ropes cut off her circulation, which resulted in the amputation of her tail and some of her vertebrae.

Winter is a DOLPHIN AMPUTEE.

The movie tells the story of Winter's rescue and how the team at Clearwater Marine Aquarium worked with a prosthetic company to help her swim again.  It’s a feel-good film about dedication, inspiration, and love.

But there's one scene from the movie I'll never forget.  It's when the trainers first try on Winter’s prosthesis.

Winter swims around for a moment or two, and you think everything’s just fine.  For one magical second, you think that swimming with a prosthetic tail will come naturally to her.  That it won't be hard at all.   But then Winter starts wriggling from side to side.  She slaps the prosthesis against the water.  Finally, she all-out THRASHES -- clearly upset -- struggling and banging her tail against the side of the pool.  Trying to cast off that foreign machine.

The first time I saw that scene, I felt my face scrunch up and my eyes squint with tears.  I could barely watch.  “Take it off!  Take it off!”  I cried to the TV.   At that moment, Winter’s pain was mine.

As the movie goes on, Winter's prosthetist and trainers work together to adjust her prosthesis.  Slowly, they teach her how to use her muscles again.  To soothe her skin, they develop a special coating for the liner. ("Winter's Gel" is now used in human liners, too!)  By the end of the movie, Winter is swimming like a champ.

At Mile 1525, we get a glimpse into Winter's real life... and PHYSICAL THERAPY.



Trainer John sets out rubber mats beneath her in the water.  He gently presses against her spine to stretch her muscles.  One of the first lessons I learned as an amputee was to lie on my stomach.  Without that daily stretch, my hip flexor would become contracted and tight.  When I watch Winter swim, I notice her residual tail pulls forward, just like my little leg.  I’m not an expert on dolphin anatomy, but I'll bet it's the same deal.

Winter rolls onto her back so her trainer can take measurements.  At 8 years old, she’s still growing, so her prosthesis has to grow too.

When the measuring's complete, she squeals happily, eats a fish or two, and then shows us her tricks.  (Go ahead, take your own 2-minute Winter Break...)

video

After the show, I ask Trainer John if I can look at Winter’s prosthesis up close.  I tug up my pant leg, flashing my own robot parts.  The Genium glimmers in the sun.

“Just a second,” he says.  He glances around.  “Ok, follow me.  But act like you don’t know me!”

Dad and I trail him casually to deserted area of the deck.  The filming of Dolphin Tale 2 is in full swing, studio areas roped off with yellow tape.

Cool stuff!!!
Apart from the crowd, John hands me Winter’s prosthesis.  Amazingly, it’s a lot like mine.  There’s a liner that fits against her skin.  There’s a socket that fits over the liner and a sleeve that rolls on over that.  But in place of a knee and foot, she -- of course -- has a super cool hydrodynamic tail!

From John we get the real story, not the movie version.  Winter wears her prosthesis every day, but for no longer than 20 minutes at a time.  She swims much better without it.  The tail is necessary to keep her muscles in shape, but it irritates her skin and requires constant adjustment.  She's gone through many prostheses over the years.

In Winter's own words...

Sound familiar?

Dad and I make our way around the rest of the aquarium.  On the layered pool decks, we discover sea turtles, otters, sting rays, birds, and a few more dolphins.   Some residents are rehabilitated so they can return to their homes.  Others, like Winter, live here permanently because they wouldn’t survive in the wild.

I've never been much of an "animal person," but watching these creatures strikes a chord in my heart -- the way they adjust to their new environment, respond to the trainers, and acquire new skills.  The way they're nurtured, loved, and rehabilitated as they heal.
Thelma and Louise --
Nurse Sharks :)

It reminds me of the care I’ve received over the past 3 years.  The doctors, nurses, prosthetists, and therapists who've been dedicated to my recovery.  And the friends I've made along the way, who start from scratch and refuse to give up.

When we leave the aquarium, temps are still the mid-50s, but it feels much warmer.  Palm trees sway in the breeze.  The air smells beachy.

Dad and I put the top down and head off to find Bright House Field, home of Phillies spring training.

We've seen Winter....
Can spring be far behind?

3 comments:

  1. I just love the way you tell the story! I saw that movie too, and it was fun to read your version complete with photos and videos. I am so glad you were out of town, because the wind
    was wicked icy here. Next time, take me along, too! Aunt Gail

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  2. Shame the weather wasn't warmer - as it should be in Florida. But cool that you and your Dad had a great time. Plus a little Father - daughter bonding is always a nice thing...

    ReplyDelete