How do we move forward?

My road came to an unexpected halt on November 9, 2010.

That morning, I was bicycling to work when a garbage truck turned across a city bike lane. I was in that bike lane.

I was critically injured in the accident. A team of trauma surgeons saved my life, but they had to amputate my left leg. I had a long road ahead of me, physically and emotionally, yet I was grateful to be alive.

An ending can be a beginning too. I started over.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

Gradually I learned to walk again. So I began counting steps. Then miles.

Over time, that journey turned a corner. It became less about my own recovery and more about resilience -- the connection we all share.

Ten years later, I still take one step at a time. Yes, there are bumps in the road, but each step means rising to new challenges, adapting to change, and moving forward with hope.

Are you on your own journey?


Monday, July 28, 2014

Walk It Out 2014

Mile Marker 1900:

Treadmills hum with patients, former patients, therapists, family, and friends.  We hop on and off.   Harness and unharness.  Cheer and cheer!

It's a 24-hour Step-A-Thon to benefit Magee's Locomotor Training (LT) Program and the Reeve NeuroRecovery Network.

Magee's slogan is BELIEVE.  And today, it's impossible not to!

I take to the treadmill at 9:30 a.m, keeping a steady pace of 3.2 m.p.h.  Mom and Dad watch from the sidelines.

Ernie is my "buddy" on the LT machine.

And Mark takes over when I need a break.

This year is different from last year's Walk It Out.  In fact, I don't even blink when my socket comes loose after 25 minutes!  (That's right... I just expect it by now!)

This year, I'm thrilled to be walking, but I'm even more excited to watch my friends!

As I take a seat to pull off my sweaty prosthesis, my friend Matt straps on his harness and hoists himself onto the LT machine.  Three PTs surround him:  one at his hips and two at his legs.  A fourth PT uses a computer to adjust the weight on his harness.  The treadmill rolls.


We've been pals for a while, but I've never seen him WALK before!

Usually in the wellness center, Matt rides the stim bike while I walk or row next to him.   But this is AMAZING!

Last year, Walk It Out coincidentally marked my 1000th Mile.  This year -- though I can hardly believe it -- it paves the home stretch toward Mile 2000.

After all this time, the phrase "Walk It Out" still keeps me going.   Some days, it simply gets me out of bed.  Other days, it takes me farther than I ever thought possible.

And speaking of farther, friends Robert and Binal traveled to Philly just for this event!  Last winter, they moved to New York for a study to improve Robert's muscle control and gait.  As he climbs onto the treadmill today, I'm bouncing with anticipation!

Last year, Robert walked supported by the LT harness.  Today, he will walk on a standard treadmill, 100% on his own.  If anyone can make this LEAP, Robert can!


I can barely capture the story of all that happens in this small workout room at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital.

Go Susan!
As the fundraiser rolls on, more of my friends continue to defy odds.

It looks like magic, but we all know the sweat, pain, and tears that have poured into our journeys.

Today, of course, there are only smiles.  We're celebrating.  WALKING TO VICTORY!

Go Charmaine and Jeff!

So after 24 hours (and 1,900 miles) what's left to do?

We do!

Check out the video!

Thanks to Charmaine, Binal, Robert, and Magee for the extra photos.  Thanks to Dad for the videos.  And thanks to everyone for the INSPIRATION and SUPPORT!  


Sunday, July 20, 2014


Mile Marker 1890:

I'm knee deep in pedestrian traffic on Walnut Street.  It's not my favorite place to be.  The sidewalks are cut with alleyways.  Restaurant doors open erratically.  Shoppers and strollers hurry past me.  Cars make turns.  Trucks idle.

At rush hour, I'm carried along by the congested current of walkers around me.

With relief, I turn onto quieter 16th Street.  That's when I hear it.  A clicking sound.  A rhythmic knock with each step.  I stop.  The sound stops.  I glance down at the pin that holds my socket together.  The likely suspect.  But it's firmly in place.

I walk again.  The sound follows with every step, like the rattle of a stone in a car tire.

Suddenly I feel my knee wobble beneath me.  I halt in the middle of the pavement, oblivious to the stream of walkers going around me.  I grasp the kneecap of my Genium.  It wiggles like a loose tooth.

This is no harmless tire rattle.  My wheel is coming off.

I inch my way toward the wall of a Kinko's store.  Against the concrete, I start checking screws from bottom to top.  The foot and ankle are fine.  I check the rotator, the screws I use to put on my swim leg.  (I always fear I won't tighten them enough.)  But no, they're tight.

One set higher, I find the culprits.  The 4 screws that connect the knee to a pylon under the socket.  The first screw practically falls into my hand.  The next 2 are working their way out.  And I can't even reach the last one.  It's behind my leg.


Or more accurately, UNSCREWED.

I've never seen anything like this.  My Genium hangs oddly at an angle, half-in, half-out of its base.  One more step and it will completely fall off.  Drop to the ground and take me with it.  Do I have an Allen wrench with me?  If not, what can I do?  Hop to hail a cab?  Crawl inside Kinko's?

Leaning to the right, I unzip my backpack and search frantically through the leg supplies.  Thankfully, an Allen wrench lies at the bottom!

I bend over and tighten the 3 screws.

Then I continue walking gingerly toward the car.  Safely at home, I do a full check of all my leg's components.

The next day at the rehab gym, I ask Paul if he has any Loctite.  From his tool bench, he pulls out an unmarked bottle with a dark, gluey substance inside.  He tells me it'll work.  (I don't call him MacGyver for nothing!)

In minutes, my leg is officially screwed once again.  As it should be!

Mile Marker 1892:

In the life of an amputee, there are a thousand moments like that one.  Admittedly, coming unscrewed is scarier than most!  But over the years, I've become accustomed to bumps in the road.

Sweaty on the treadmill?  Grab a towel and take the whole socket off.

Bottoming out?  Add another sock ply.

Foot whipping around?  Rotate the socket.

There are tons of tricks, some easier to implement than others.  But the hardest thing to realize is that just one millimeter or one loose screw -- even a tiny puff of air -- can throw a wrench into the day.  And I don't mean an Allen wrench!

At Mile Marker 1892, screws freshly locked, my Genium and I browse through Whole Foods.

On the highest shelf of the freezer sits a Butternut Squash Souffle.  I must have it.

Now, I've been an amputee for less than 4 years, but I have been SHORT my entire life.  In fact, I come from a long line of small, powerful women. What we lack in height, we make up for in determination.  And bonus, I'm a rock climber too!

I've got a plan in mind.  I grab a box of veggieburgers from the bottom shelf, set my right foot on the ledge of the door frame, and hoist my body upward.  In a jiff, my right hand grasps that top shelf.  With my left, I use the veggieburgers to swat down the souffle.  It hits the floor.

Unfortunately -- psst!   I feel my leg going too!

The freezer launch has leaked a tiny bit of air into my liner.  It makes the suspension go haywire.  My prosthesis is no longer fixed to my leg.

I refuse to be screwed 2 days in a row.

So I pick up the souffle box and push my cart toward the restroom, luckily just yards away.  But it's occupied.  To wait, I limp over to the recipe wall.  I feign interest in pecan-crusted salmon while I balance on one foot.

Finally, the bathroom door opens.  Grasping my socket with one hand, I shuffle inside.  There, I perform the best trick so far.  I re-don my entire liner and socket without touching any bathroom surface!

That's it,  I decide.  I am done.  No more acrobatics.  No more strategies.  No more pushing my luck.  I head straight to the check-out line.

On this blog, I talk mostly about big things, like comfort and health, inspiration and motivation, even getting my life back....  But prosthetically speaking, the devil's in the details.  Consistency is everything.  And inconsistency will take you down in one step.

I don't know how other amputees get through these challenging moments each day.  I only know how I do.

"This'll make a great blog post," I say a thousand times.

Screwed (or unscrewed) that's usually enough to keep me going.

Monday, July 7, 2014

I Can

Mile Marker 1850:

I CAN is a powerful place to be, but it takes a lot of work to get there.

In a crowded New Jersey gymnasium, bikes are zooming everywhere.  Big and small.  Fast and slow.  They whiz around like fireflies -- circling, fluttering, wobbling -- lit by the desire in their riders' eyes.

"Pedal, pedal, pedal, PEDAL!" shout the buddies, who run alongside.  It's their job to keep the kids' feet moving, hands steering, and eyes straight ahead, focused on the so-called road.

At the iCan Bike program, affectionately known as "Bike Camp," children with disabilities are matched with volunteer buddies who -- with the help of adaptive equipment, detailed training, and a whole lot of energy -- teach the kids to ride two-wheelers.  Whew!

If you remember learning to ride a bike yourself, you understand the enormity of the task.  You know it involves a heap of determination, a touch of anguish, and several good spills.

But iCan Bike sets these kids up for success.  Instead of training wheels, they replace the back tires with rollers of different length and thickness.  Buddies run behind the bikes to help the children steer, balance, and stop.  As the kids learn to control the bikes on their own, the back rollers become shorter and more tapered.  The buddies release their hold on the support bars.  And we all watch in amazement as the kids progress from adaptive bikes to their own two-wheelers!

So what am I doing here -- besides witnessing some super awesome bike-riding??

Go John!
I met camp director Caroline a few months ago as I was watering the Healing Garden at Jefferson Hospital.  Caroline is also mom to 10-year-old John, a rider in the program.   When she told me about the camp's mission, I wanted to volunteer, but bike-chasing wasn't really up my alley.  So I offered to be the camp photographer.

In 3 days, I take almost 400 photos, but they barely scratch the surface of the two-wheeled magic...

At the start of the week, the children are tentative.  They need boosts from their buddies.  Their feet slip off the pedals.  They glance from side to side, easily distracted.  Some cry with frustration.  Others miss turns, bump into bleachers, and hop off their bikes mid-stride to run away.

Then, pedal by pedal, a transformation occurs.
I CAN'T turns into I'LL TRY.

To get them there, the buddies coax and coddle.  They draw checklists, distribute stickers, work puppets, and hold up numbered cards for every lap.  They teach the kids strategies for "frog starts" (3 pushes with your feet, then pedal, pedal, pedal!) and "stops" (squeeze the brake and put your feet down quick!).

Most buddies are just high school kids themselves, but they become PTs, OTs, coaches, teachers, and cheerleaders.  All while running their hearts out!

By the final day, 16-year-old Ronnie rides a beach cruiser proudly around the parking lot.  He's got the basics down, but I can see those inner wheels turning.

He attempts tricks:  standing on the pedals, picking up speed, even taking a running start.  He definitely hops more curbs than he should, yet he rolls on with confidence!

Then there's Hallie, whose dark eyes squint with concentration and intensity.
She's earned more than her share of scraped knees this week.  But no matter how many times she wants to give in, her buddies perk her up with pep talks.  And when they finally wheel out her own pink and purple bike, she's on the move once again!

Inside the gym, another rider Logan shows me a picture he drew.  He explains, "It says What to do What to do  because in the beginning, I didn't know what to do."

Then he picks up his red and black dirt bike, and heads outside for more practice.

I step on and off the blacktop, snapping photos as the kids race by.  Truly, it's a challenge for me just to avoid being run over!   But the rewards are worth it.  From the sidelines, I join parents in watching their children soar.

On my own journey, I learned a long time ago the power of I CAN.  I was fortunate to be taught by doctors, nurses, therapists, prosthetists, friends, and family who didn't know the meaning of I CAN'T.  (Or if they did, they kept it a secret!)

Even now, almost every day, people ask me what I can do.  Perhaps it comes with the territory of being bionic...
"Can you bike?" (yes)
"Skate?" (pretty much)
"Run?" (not yet, but someday!)

Still, Bike Camp is a good refresher course.

It reminds us how I CAN'T will stop us in our tracks, while I CAN will send a breeze through our helmets.

And to help span the distance, there's a bridge in the middle called I'LL TRY.

At the end of Bike Camp, not everyone is riding independently yet.  But they're all pedaling their fastest, steering their best, and smiling pretty darn wide!

Medals all around!

Then the kids take their bikes home to keep practicing...

...pedaling and pedaling toward that place called I CAN.
(They give me something to aim for too.  Maybe next year I'll chase bikes!)