Not long ago, Jo Roe broke her leg as she slid in—safe!—to home base in a soft ball game. But that isn’t the injury that led to her amputation. In fact, Jo was already an amputee, and the leg she broke was her prosthetic leg, which she used to effectively steal second on one pitch, then third on the next, before breaking it as she collided with the umpire (who thankfully came out of the situation with nothing broken). Eight years ago, none of this would have been possible. Jo once weighed over five hundred pounds; she was employed in the nursing field, working a second job and going to school, but she knew she had to do something about her health. So, Jo lost three hundred pounds! Things started looking up.
But that was before the day her beloved dog jumped in the shower with her and Jo fell, breaking her foot and ankle in multiple places. The surgery and boot that were supposed to set the fragile bones failed, and they shifted, badly damaging her nerves. The result was a foot that hurt badly all the time for four-and-a-half years. There was shooting pain, sharp constant pain, burning pain, pins-and-needles pain; pressure, cold, heat, blowing air—it all hurt. After getting her weight down under two hundred pounds and beginning to do things she loved, now Jo had to get around on crutches or just stay home. For a while her employer’s disability insurance helped with the bills, but that ran out and she had to get on Medicaid while she waited to qualify for Social Security Disability. The pounds started coming back, the pain pills Jo hated taking made her feel drugged all the time, and there still wasn’t a time when she didn’t hurt. Eventually, depression set in, and Jo says it was the intervention of folks at the South Side Church of God who “saved my life.”
By that time, the situation with Jo’s foot had gotten much worse than she realized. It wasn’t just a pain syndrome caused by damaged nerves: her foot was purple, and some of her new friends realized that wasn’t right. Jo saw Dr. Woods in South County who immediately referred her to a vascular surgeon at St. Anthony’s Medical Center, Dr. Russell Kraeger. A lot of people are understandably shocked and resistant when they hear they need an amputation, but Jo’s response was typical: “Are you serious? I wanted this thing off two years ago!”
Kraeger amputated Jo’s leg below the knee in December 2006. It was on the acute rehab floor at St. Anthony’s that Jo met Manny Rivera, her new prosthetist from P & O Care. When he finally fit her with her first prosthesis she says she thought, “This thing fits like a glove! I have literally no pain.” Jo did go through some of the pain most amputees experience, like phantom sensations of her missing limb, but she says the more she walked the less she noticed. Jo quickly lost the walker they supplied in rehab and asked to be taught how to ride the escalator on their field trip to the South County Mall. Later, she took up softball and volleyball, walks more than three miles a day, and has lost another one hundred ten pounds since her amputation. Jo says the best compliments she and Manny could receive are the times people say to her, “I had no idea you didn’t have a leg!”