Work – Showing others how to stay physically active after amputation

Showing others how to stay physically active after amputation

Connie Moe is a firecracker of a woman from Richmond, Virginia. Though only 4’10” in height, her personality is as big as they come. Being an amputee hasn’t slowed her down one bit, and her story and determination to lead an active lifestyle is inspiring.

“I’ve always been athletic. I’m not particularly good at any sport, but love them all,” she said. Connie completed her first 10K in 2002, “One of the things I enjoyed most about doing a 10K was the training – that was as much fun as the 10K itself,” she said. It was during that race that she began to have issues with her ankle.

“I ran the 2002 10K in Richmond and after the race my ankle looked like it had a goose egg on it,” she said. “I went to several physicians, but could never get the problem fixed.” After a number of attempts to resolve the issue, she started considering her alternatives. “I had heard about ankle replacements,” said Connie, “I thought might be a smart option. After so many surgeries, the idea of a new leg and ankle sounded great to me!”

Connie continued, “I went to a world renown specialist in ankle replacement, who initially did not want to take me on as a patient because of my age.” At this point, it was now 2005, 3 years after her initial issues with her ankle. “But after he talked with me and found out I was a personal trainer, and had taught exercise classes since 1985, he agreed to see me and then accepted me as a patient.” For Connie, exercise is an essential activity, so it was important to her to be able to maintain an active lifestyle.

Unfortunately, Connie’s ankle replacement was fraught with complications. “After the surgery, I contracted MRSA. At first, I didn’t understand that MRSA was why the replacement wasn’t taking the way it should. I had IV medications at home, I had to go to the hospital several times and my husband had to keep driving me back and forth to Baltimore, it was a mess.”

During the course of trying to repair her ankle, Connie had a total of 17 surgeries dealing with the different things to get her back up and running. “I went up for one more surgery and I told my husband, ‘I’m ready just to have this thing gone,’” said Connie. At this point, the physician and Connie agreed – it was time to amputate. Amazingly, Connie was happy. “I was just delighted to get rid of that nasty ankle that wouldn’t do anything,” she said.

“Once the MRSA entered into the bone and there was no way to get rid of it,” Connie continued. “After 2 years of not being able to function in the manner to which I was accustomed, I told the physicians to take the foot and ankle - surely anything is better than this!”

“And it was and still is,” said Connie.

“After the amputation, my husband standing by me, he said ‘you got a foot.’ The physicians had put me into an air cast, wrapped around my leg, with a foot at the bottom – and I walked out of there with that foot on my leg,” said Connie. She continued to use that until she healed enough to receive a prosthetic.

Being raised in Richmond, she was already familiar with Powell. “One of my class mates had cerebral palsy and used Powell for his stabilizers, so when it became apparent I'd need a prosthetic it never occurred to me to go anyone else but Powell.”

Since Connie got her prosthetic, she’s been as active as ever. “It helped that I was in good physical condition when I lost my leg,” she said. “Even during recovery, I still taught and worked with clients as a personal trainer and continued teaching exercise class.” I’m 82 years old and I maintain my certification as a personal trainer and still teach classes twice a week.”

\Connie is also an active advocate for amputees. In April, she went to Washington, DC with a group of other amputees and advocates to ask legislators to support continuing care for amputees. Supported by the Amputee Coalition of American, the group visited with senators and legislators with their message on why it was important to continue medical care for amputees. “It was a bit of an amazing site,” said Connie. “We were put out on capital hill – all these people with prosthetics put out over that hill in crazy heat, but we were on a mission.” Florida Congressman Brian Mast, an Afghanistan veteran, visited with them during the afternoon. Mast is a double amputee after an IED blast during his final tour took both of his legs in 2010.

When asked what words of encouragement she might have for those facing the loss of a limb, Connie’s advice first and foremost is to have to have a sense of humor about everything – even about a lost limb. Next, she says, “Get a good prosthetic and USE IT. Whatever the limb loss, use that prosthetic, learn to work it and just use it as much as you can. Don’t favor it – don’t treat it as what it is. Try not to limit yourself.”

This article was written for my client Powell Orthotics & Prosthetics and appeared on their blog.