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!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Sweat Test 2.0

Mile Marker 5215:

It's called a Liner-Liner.

It reminds me of one of those "As Seen on TV" products -- like a prosthetic version of the "ShamWow."

In reality, the Liner-Liner is exactly what it claims to be:  a liner for your liner.  The label promises sweat-wicking material, improved comfort, facilitated grip, and a washable interface.  But don't answer yet...  It also costs less than $20!

I first heard about the Liner-Liner on a Facebook page for amputees.  A man from Florida recommended it.  I figured he was probably an expert on sweat!

When I googled it, it popped right up on a website called Amputee Store.  Yes, it's real.  (And awesome.)

In 2 days, the Liner-Liner lands in my mailbox.

Remember last summer's Sweat Test?

Now, 10 months later, it's the morning of Mile 5,215.  We'll call it Sweat Test 2.0.

I pull the Liner-Liner onto my leg like a comfy sock.  My own silicone liner rolls over it easily, and my leg slides into the socket without a hitch.

But before I can take my first step, I spot a warning on the label:

NOTE:  Ensure suspension is effective prior to full time use.

Note #2:  That's not fine print.  It's bold print.

If you're an amputee, you know this.  SUSPENSION IS EVERYTHING.  It means keeping your leg on!

There are lots of suspension systems out there.  Here's how mine works:

I roll on a silicone liner.  The inside of the liner sticks to my skin.  The outside has 5 circular seals -- like rings -- that grip the prosthetic socket.  When I push into the prosthesis, a valve expels air, creating a vacuum which keeps the leg sealed.

If you break the suction -- at any level -- the suspension fails.  That's why sweat can make or break your day.  Literally.

The theory behind the Liner-Liner is simple:  add an extra layer to soak up the sweat.

Note #3:  This is not simple at all.

I walk tentatively around the apartment.  There's more pistoning -- up and down motion -- than I'm used to.  But it's also soft and cushioned.  I give my Genium a tug.  It stays on.

Got suspension?  Check.

Next stop, the sidewalk.  The extra layer muffles the sensation of my foot against the ground, so I step carefully over curbs and grates, and kick extra high to clear the cobblestones.  It's a humid day, but three blocks in, my leg still feels dry and secure.  Whoo-hoo!

I head toward Race Street Pier, a tree-lined park that juts out over the Delaware River.

I rarely walk down here because it's off the beaten path and there's no place to do leg adjustments.  But today, the Liner-Liner brings a surge of confidence.  I savor the stroll, soaking in the lines and textures of early morning.

Even my gait seems pretty good. Check out the replay...

When I reach the end of the pier, I discover this message.

Well, this Liner-Liner, for one!

I'm ready to declare Sweat Test 2.0 a success!

Then I get home.
And sit down.
And my leg slides right out of the socket.

(Got suspension?  Not anymore.)

So.  The results are in.  Despite a pleasant first mile, the Liner-Liner is still very much a work in progress.  And for me, that means it's back to the drawing board.

Hello old friends.

My usual sweat fighters:
Climbing Chalk + Degree DrySpray

The latest Sweat Test proves, once again, there are no easy answers.  But I still dream of a day when my leg and I can take the heat.  In fact, I'm already thinking...

How about Liner-Liner 2.0?  

Imagine it.  Lycra thin.  Cool on skin.  Wicky on the inside.  Sticky on the outside.

Think bike shorts...

...meet hospital socks!

Calling all inventors.  Anyone game?

It's only June.

We've got time -- and temperature -- on our side!

Hey fellow amputees, 
Want to run your own Sweat Test?  
Legs and sockets are all different, so what didn't work for me might work for you.  I have Liner-Liners, in 2 sizes, washed and up for grabs.  Comment or email me if you want to try them!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Lucky 13

Mile Marker 5200:

My niece Brianna just turned 13.

At Mile Marker 5200, I trail behind her through the narrow aisles of Primark, her favorite store in the mall.  She peruses the graphic tees, torn denim shorts, and skinny jeans, handing them to me one by one.  We carry an armful into the fitting room.

This is her birthday present -- shopping -- because at 13, she has a style all her own.  (Well, technically it's a style she shares with most of her friends, but you get the idea!)  Plus, I'm a shopper too.  We have that in common.

After checkout, Brianna says, "There's one more place I want to go."

If you know a 13-year-old, you can probably guess where we're headed...

Starbucks Frappy Hour!

Brianna lives in the far suburbs, at least an hour's drive from Philly, so coming into the city is a big deal.  We don't see each other as often as we'd like.

To see more, click here.
But whether she knows it or not, she's played a large role in my journey.  She was only 6 when my accident occurred.  During those earliest days in the hospital, she couldn't visit, so my walls were papered with her handwritten notes and magic marker drawings.

When I was discharged, we worried about what to tell her and how to talk about my missing leg.  I used to take her to the sprinkler park and the ice skating rink.  She loved the aunt I was "before."  What would she think of me now?

We didn't have to worry.  Not really.  My sister-in-law, Amy, gave Brianna the heads-up in kid-appropriate language.  The doctors couldn't fix my leg, so they had to take part of it off.   (I've used that same sentence to explain it to many kids since!)

To our surprise, Brianna's reaction was equally understated.  At first she asked, "Why are your jeans wearing a ponytail?"

Later, when I showed her my new prosthetic "robot leg," she concluded, as only a 6-year-old could,  "It would be cooler if you had two robot legs." 

That was it.  End of story.  For her anyway.

For me it was just the beginning.  I spent the next few years busy with rehab, caught up in my own recovery.  I didn't have the confidence or stamina to take her places anymore.  We drifted apart.

And she grew up.

Now Brianna has gone from kindergarten to 7th grade.  She's a rock climber and a vegetarian.  She likes to read and bake cookies.  She does well in school.

This is our first weekend together in a long time.  (Maybe ever.)   We rack up 4 miles.

We get dumplings in Chinatown.

Sample Thai rolled ice cream.

Go rock climbing together.

Brianna can belay now!

Sure, I'm the adult here.  The expert on city life.  But the physical part is still challenging.  In the sweltering heat, we drive instead of walk.  We plan our activities around shade and air-conditioning.  I stop to readjust my leg every few hours.  Brianna waits patiently, scrolling through her phone like a typical teen.  Although I wonder what she's thinking, she seems to accept my differences in the same matter-of-fact way she did when she was six.

When bedtime comes, I set her up in the guest room with a book-light and a worn hardback copy of Judy Bloom's Tiger Eyes, one of my own favorites at 13.   It's the story of a girl with a loss so big, she wonders how she'll ever go on.  Brianna says she likes it so far.

I take comfort in numbers.  Back in my hospital days, a wise surgeon told me the number 13 was lucky.  Granted, he was just trying to allay my fear about another surgery, but the idea stuck with me.

Brianna and I are forging a bond again.  At 13, she towers above me in height.  She wears a much bigger shoe size.  She can out-shop me at the mall and drink me under the table in Frappuccinos.  Yet somehow, for some reason, she still looks up to me.

Thirteen feels more than lucky.  It feels like the right place to start.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

My Team

Mile Marker 5177:

When the rain hits, it's good to be among your own.

At the Ossur Running and Mobility Clinic presented by Challenged Athletes Foundation, it's been drizzling all morning.  Now the skies open.  Heavy clouds release a steady stream of raindrops.

Incredibly the runners stand their ground, sprinting drills across the field.  Volunteers follow, holding fast to their gait belts.  No one seems to notice the weather.

But me?  I'm on the sidelines, and I need to run for cover.  I glance around.  On this field of amputees, there aren't many microprocessor knees like mine.  Most people have swapped their computerized legs for running blades.

I hustle into a nearby tent, digging through my backpack in search of long pants.  I'm so intent on keeping my leg dry, I don't even notice the woman standing next to me.

"I should have worn pants," she mutters.

The sentence is so familiar -- I say it so often -- at first I think it came from my own mouth.  When I turn, I notice the woman has a C-Leg, a microprocessor knee like mine.  She's huddled under the tent too.  We start talking.

She asks me about my Genium.  Her C-Leg is made by the same company, Ottobock.  If the conversation seems a bit awkward, it's because we're standing under a tent sponsored by Ossur, a different prosthetic company!

No worries.  The Ossur rep is there too.  And she chimes in without missing a beat.  "Have you tried our new Rheo Knee XC?" she says, explaining its perks.

The story goes on.  I could tell you the pros and cons of each knee, but that's not the point.

Here's the point:

In my everyday, daily, routine life,  I'm usually the ONLY ONE with a prosthetic leg.  Here, it's nice to have company.

I've gotten used to standing out as the only amputee -- at work, on an airplane, in line at the coffee shop....  It's often unique and fun.  In the last week alone, I've fielded questions from a curious 6th grader, a TSA agent, and even a snack vendor at the Phillies game.  A bionic leg is a great conversation piece.

But some days, especially when the hard stuff hits, it can be isolating.  Even the most normal activities take effort.  When I'm sweating out of my liner, or nursing a new socket rub, or feeling the jiggle of a loose rotator (Yes, that happened this week too!), there's always a lingering thought:  No one here understands.

I didn't realize how much it weighed me down until the last few miles.  Which were noticeably lighter.

At Mile 5171, I met 4 new amputees in Magee's rehab gym.

At Mile 5172, I picked up my friend Zach (a fellow amputee) from the train station and drove him to Prosthetic Innovations where, of course, we found more amputees -- with camaraderie to spare!

That's Zach on running blades!

At Mile 5173, I was volunteering at Jefferson Hospital when a family in the lobby flagged me down.

"Can we ask you a question?" they said.  "Where did you get your leg?"  (Oh yeah.  I was wearing shorts.)

It turns out, their close friend just lost his leg from a motorcycle accident.  Wow.  As you might guess, they had questions.  A brief encounter turned into a half-hour conversation.

You might think all that running around would be draining, but it wasn't exhausting at all.  It was energizing.  Fortifying.  It refueled me.

Being the ONLY ONE is a heavy burden.  Being part of a COMMUNITY takes the pressure off.

At Mile 5177, I stand on the sidelines at the running clinic, dodging raindrops and cheering on our PI Team.

Zach leaps onto his two running blades.

Shannon and Vinny tear it up in the advanced mobility group.


I even "run" into a PT buddy!

Hi Chris!

Meanwhile, 50 other amputees with various configurations of blades, feet, legs, and arms defy the laws of motion.  It's a day of personal bests.  The strength and persistence is contagious, even from the sidelines!

We're led by Bob Gailey, the expert on amputee mobility

So why stay on the sidelines?  What about that awesome running blade I have?

Well, it's at home today.

Running and mobility clinics have been helpful, fun, and super motivating for me.  (Click here for a play-by-play.)   I'd recommend them to any amputee who wants to improve speed and balance.  But running takes a toll on my body -- both sides -- my residual limb and my real leg.   Lately, for every action, it seems there's an equal and opposite reaction.

It's a good leg day, and I don't want to risk it by running.

That may sound bizarre to you two-legged people out there.  But in this community, on this soggy field, in this misty rain that's hazardous to our hardware, we understand.

This is my team.

Thanks to Ossur, CAF, and PI for such an energizing event!   For more info about the Running and Mobility Clinics, click here.