Michael Jones: Air Force Veteran
As he faced his recovery from the amputation of his right leg above the knee in September 2014, Michael Jones knew that rehabilitation would be a long, tough process. His goal: Getting out of his wheelchair and back to an independent lifestyle.
“I was weak in my arms and legs. My muscles were just mush,” says Jones, 56. “First of all, I needed to build up strength in my left leg, and rebuild the strength in my hip that I’d lost by spending five months in the hospital.”
Jones, an Air Force veteran, required amputation after a life-threatening infection in his foot spread into his lower leg. His diabetes had numbed some of the feeling in his feet, so he didn’t feel the pain until it was out of control, he says. He required four operations and two separate courses of rehab, because of infections, bleeding, and difficulty adjusting to two different types of prosthetic legs.
“I was fitted with the prosthesis when I was out of the hospital, and everything had healed. But using it has been a real challenge,” says Jones. He chose HPRC’s St. Francis Rehabilitation Center at Main Street Village for his rehab after his orthopedic surgeon recommended it. The clinic, located on Veterans Parkway, offered a full range of medical resources in case he might need it at any point, he felt. Medical and Health Resources, a division of HPRC, made the prosthesis for Jones and is located in the same building.
“Everything is right there. If there was going to be any problem, St. Francis is right there, and the prosthetist is there to make adjustments,” he says. Jones began his rehabilitation at HPRC in March 2015 for a two-month stint, then after medical treatment, went back for a six-month stint later that year. At first, he came to the clinic three times a week, but now only needs one session per week. He has gone from a wheelchair to using a rolling walker, and is now working toward a goal of walking with a cane.
Independence is important to Jones, who lives alone in his south Columbus home. While his nieces help him with some tasks like vacuuming, he doesn’t want to rely on others for most of his daily needs. That’s why he put so much energy into his rehab at HPRC.
“I didn’t want to have nurses. I wanted to be able to cook my own meals and take care of my own business.”
Determination Pays Off
He started his journey back to independence with small amounts of cardiovascular exercise on a rowing machine to build up his upper-body strength, and moving back and forth on parallel bars to improve his balance. His prosthetic leg has a locking mechanism in the knee joint so it doesn’t wobble when he puts his weight on it. Still, training his body to walk with it was a huge challenge that he tackled over months of work with his HPRC physical therapist, Julie King.
“I am so thankful for Julie. I wouldn’t be here today without her. We did a lot of planting, lunging, walking with a walker, and then with a cane. I have been learning how to place it and knowing how it feels when it locks. With a prosthesis, you don’t have any feeling of planting it on the ground,” he says.
With King’s help, Jones slowly learned how to balance himself, then walk with his prosthesis without falling. They worked together, step by step, to increase his stamina and stability. He started moving short distances: from the parallel bars inside the clinic to the doorway, from the doorway to the hall, from the hall to the clinic entrance, from the entrance to the sidewalk outside.
Throughout his months-long rehab, Jones was “determined” to succeed, says King.
“He has not had an easy path since he had his amputation. He has suffered medical setbacks, and yet, he continues to push himself and strive for a quality of life that some patients do not attain following amputation,” says King, Director of Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapy at the clinic. “The greatest satisfaction that any therapist can hope for is getting a patient back to where he wants to be: actively participating in the day-to-day functional tasks that he wants to perform.”
Learning to use his prosthesis was a slow, careful process, like a toddler taking his first steps, says Jones. King worked with him on basic moves that most of us take for granted, including stepping up and down off the curb, or sitting down in and standing up from a chair. She helped him adopt techniques to avoid dangerous slips and falls. When he’d stumble, therapists at the clinic caught him before he could hit the floor and suffer a serious injury.
“People think you get a new leg, put weight on it and start walking. But, no! It has to become a part of you,” says Jones. He also worked with the prosthetist to adjust his new leg eight different times so it fit properly and was the correct height. He’s also had kidney failure and is on dialysis, so his weight can fluctuate with changing body fluid levels. Sudden shifts throughout the day can affect pressure on his prosthesis, he says.
“The therapists at HPRC do a lot on the fly. I can’t imagine the schooling they must have to go through to master an understanding of all the muscle movement they see,” says Jones, who worked with King to progress from walking 200 steps to 1,000 steps a day in one hour. “Everyone has a different degree of balance. Some people, no matter how fit they are, just can’t do certain things. The therapists have to say, ‘Can I push this person?’”
King recalls one clinic session with Jones after he’d been able to attend a family birthday party. One of his goals for his rehab was to be able to fully participate in joyful life experiences with the people he loves – not just observe from a wheelchair on the sidelines.
“He was so proud of his hard work, and was bound and determined that he was going to walk into the party, even though he had to go down a ramp and across a parking lot,” says King. “His family was completely taken aback with his ability to ambulate into the party venue. He was so excited telling me about his family’s reaction!”
Rehab after amputation is a long, tough process full of sweat-inducing physical work, setbacks that can dampen the spirit, and triumphs that stir the soul. Jones has been through all of that, and is grateful to King and the staff at HPRC for their emotional support.
“That is very important to me in the long haul that I’ve had. I’ve had many peaks, many valleys, ups and downs. I have my emotional days when I didn’t think I would make it, when I say to myself, ‘Why me?’” says Jones. “The guidance and emotional support I’ve had from my therapists kept me going.”
Jones’ determination to achieve his goals made those months of hard work pay off, says King.
“Michael is a therapist’s dream patient because of his perseverance, his dedication, and his positive attitude. I am so proud to have played a small role in his recovery and return to a functional, independent lifestyle!” she says.
Jones says he and so many other Columbus residents like him couldn’t enjoy that independence without the rehabilitation services that HPRC offers – along with the caring environment it provides.
“It’s a small place, but it has a big impact on a lot of people.”