A group of doctors and staff members gathered with those who had amputations on Tuesday. They’re earning scuba diving certifications, DJ’ing at parties and playing bocce ball with their girlfriends on the weekends. A limb short.
These were some of the accomplishments shared last week at a support group for amputees, at its third “ampuversary.” In the cafeteria of the Hackensack Meridian Health JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute in Edison, an inspirational story could be found by talking to anyone in the room.
“The people here, they’re so wonderful. They bring me back,” said Janet Stubbs, who says she is “almost 76,” though that might be difficult to believe once you hear her weekend plans, which include bocce ball and drumstick workouts.
“Me!” interjected her friend Joan Myers, who sat across the table from her, munching on some of the provided snacks.
“It’s why I keep coming back,” Stubbs said, who recently moved, but still makes the hour and 15 minute drive from her new home in Manchester.
Wearing a shirt that said, “Quit pulling my leg… seriously it comes off,” Stubbs recounted how a MRSA diagnosis led to her decision to have her leg removed below the knee. It made her one of the “lucky” ones who got to choose what came off, Stubbs said, but it also made her the butt of the joke among her amputee friends. She’s the “wannabe amputee.”
The joke makes her smile.
“You can choose to stay down, or you can get up and say, ‘I wanna live my life,'” Stubbs said.
She sat across from Myers, as they swapped jokes and showed pictures on their phones. Just a few minutes before a nosy reporter interrupted their conversation, Myers, 59, had been on the dance floor grooving to a Bee Gees remix.
She’s a certified scuba diver and is working her way up to again using the brand new skis and snow boots that she only used once. She lost a leg after a complication brought on by diabetes.
“This group allows you to be with people who are the same, but different,” Myers, of Edison, said. “You come to understand what happened to you and it challenges you, yet it allows you to be yourself.”
Thousands of amputations are performed in New Jersey every year due to complications from health conditions that range from diabetes to peripheral arterial disease, according to data from the Amputee Coalition.
Those who came to the support group’s event ranged in age, ethnicity, gender and profession.
“It allows patients to come together because they now get to share their stories, share their experiences, they learn from each other,” said Dr. Heikki Uustal, medical director of the prosthetic/orthotic team at the JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute.
“… We as the educators learn just as much from them because they tell us little tricks on how they do stuff because when you have two legs, two arms, you don’t think about, ‘how do I put my clothes on when I’m wearing a prosthesis.'”
Uustal said he works with his patients to determine the best prosthesis to fit their daily routine.
After trying dozens of sockets, Sam Ghatas, 37, of Edison, said he finally has found a leg that works. He was DJ’ing the event on Tuesday.
“Having a bad fit is not the best for me. It’s reflected in everything you do,” Ghatas said, after explaining how cancer took his leg. “But it feels good now, you can walk around like normal.”
Margaret Anderson, 48 of Metuchen, also knows what it’s like to go through some legs. She told the doctor that she liked to go to the beach, so she was outfitted with legs that allow her to walk on the sand.
With her children by her side on Tuesday, she remembered how septic shock required her to have a double amputation. At the time, her daughter was three months old.
“The running joke was ‘who’s gonna walk first?'” Anderson said. “I beat her!”