Stephen Withers:  Don't Be Silent!
Stephen Withers and Columbus Clinical Manager, Tim Riedlinger, CPO

When Stephen Withers prepared to for work one morning in early December 2016, he had no idea how his life would dramatically change. While at work, Steve was involved in a car accident which resulted in his work vehicle catching fire while Steve was unconscious and trapped inside. As a result, he suffered severe burns to his upper body, the worst of which caused all the fingers on his right hand to have to be amputated. Mercifully, Steve doesn't remember the accident or really any of his early days in the hospital. His first conscious memory was not until 3 months later in March. However, friends and family informed him that he was in a drug induced coma for the first month and on life support. His family was twice given the option to take him off life support as doctors did not expect Steve to survive his injuries, but twice they refused. Steve made a miraculous recovery which stunned many of the medical professionals who worked with him.

Steve first remembers "coming to" in March of 2016, and as he tells it, "You have a million questions going through your head, and you finally think, 'Well, maybe it was for the good [that things worked out the way they did]." Steve struggled at first coming to grips with how his life had changed overnight. It is not easy to have to relearn everything again. Simple everyday tasks like writing his name, buttoning a shirt, picking up and holding objects, all had to be relearned to be done with one hand (which was heavily bandaged at the time). Steve was open and candid about how there were days where he had contemplated suicide. However, he realized that this would solve nothing, and he could not bear the thought of what that would do to his family.

Steve did turn the corner, and learned some important lessons along the way. He offers this encouragement to others going through what he went through: "Work with somebody! Talk about it [your amputation, questions, and struggles]! The biggest thing is to be able to talk about it. Find someone to talk to whether it is an amputee like me or a professional. The key to getting along the way I have is I have learned to joke around about it [my amputation]. You have to keep a sense of humor in order to help you hold on to your own sanity. Know that you survived a traumatic incident for a reason. With a good heart and mind anything is possible! You gotta' be strong hearted and NEVER give up on yourself."

We asked Steve what life has been like for him as an amputee, and if he could tell us if there was one thing that he wished that the general public could better understand about his life. Steve smiled and said, "I wish people would let me tell my story. Come up and talk to me rather than just stare at me. Especially kids...Kids are naturally curious, but often parents just tell them not to stare and quickly shoo the kids along without ever letting them talk to me and ask me questions. It is a great opportunity for kids to learn how to interact with someone with a disability, and they miss out on that chance when they aren't allowed to approach me. The funny thing is that the adults are even worse about staring than kids, and the adults almost never approach me to ask questions. What I want the kids [and the adults too] to understand is that just because somebody like me looks different than you doesn't mean that I am truly all that different than you. Don't run away from me. Come talk to me."

One of the best days of Steve's journey thus far was when he got his prosthesis on 12/29/2017. He was beyond excited. "My prosthesis helps me do simple things I could not do without it. Things like writing my name, picking up objects with my right hand, and being able to hold objects again in my right hand." He was so excited in fact about this that his first stop after getting his prosthesis was to go to a buffet at a local casino. He was thrilled to be able to finally hold a fork in his right hand and cut his steak! He said that he used to hide in the back of restaurants because he did not want people staring at him as he struggled to eat and cut his food up. Now, that is a thing of the past. He is even back to riding his motorcycle (which has always been a passion of his). He is every day discovering new tasks that he is able to do again thanks to his prosthesis.

Joining Steve on this journey has been an honor and a privilege, and we all celebrate all of the milestones that he has achieved along the way. Nothing brings us more joy than hearing each time he comes in for a visit what new thing that he has figured out how to do since his last visit. Steve has this to say about his experience working with Optimus, "I LOVE this place. They can do anything, and they will work with you!" For all us here at Optimus, there is no higher compliment than that. 
Q&A with Doug "Gene" Smith
  Gene Smith with Laura Klagstad, CPO
Gene Smith with Laura Klagstad, CPO

When did your amputation occur?
My above knee amputation was performed on September 30, 2017. I had struggled with constant osteomyelitis after suffering a traumatic accident 37 years ago.
Are there any details that led up surgery?
I had been struggling off and on with osteomyelitis for 37 years year. That, combined with self-imposed isolation and depression ultimately led to the amputation.
Tell me how you were first introduced to Optimus Prosthetics.  What was your first impression? 
I was visited by Amy Yates, CPO and Patient Advocate, when I was in the hospital after my amputation. She was extremely kind and gave me encouragement and hope when I needed it the most.
What has been the best/worst thing about being an amputee?
The best thing about becoming an amputee is that I no longer have to worry about the constant negative effects that my chronic osteomyelitis has had on my body for the past 37 years. The most difficult thing about being an amputee is that many people I've known for a long time now treat me differently. I want people to know that I am still the same person I was before the amputation. I have different challenges and it might take me a little longer to do something, but I will get through them.
Are there any opportunities that have presented to you since becoming an amputee? When I was recovering at the skilled nursing facility, I had a chance to talk to many other patients and try to lift their spirits. I never realized how depressing these places can be for a great number of people. It made me aware of how lucky I was. I also got to meet a lot of great people, from the PT and OT staff at the SNF, to the folks at Optimus Prosthetics.
If you had one suggestion you could offer about the prosthetic process, being an amputee, and/or the surgery, what would it be?
Remember that the road can be long and there may be low times, but there will also be many victories. It is okay to feel as though you are failing, because whatever is getting in your way, you will eventually get past. When the doctor tells you that he feels you need an amputation, take your time to process the information and get a second opinion if you think it's necessary. Once you feel okay about the amputation, start getting on with your life and know that this procedure is going to improve your life.
What do you wish other people knew or understood about being an amputee?
That it can be tough and even normal activities and simple tasks can be very hard to complete because you can no longer do them in a simple and "normal" way.
What would you tell someone who is pending an amputation?
If you feel the need, get help from a healthcare professional; especially if it involves your mental well being. Don't be afraid to lean on your friends and family. You will find them to be more understanding and caring than you could ever imagine. Listen to your doctors and therapists - they know what they are talking about.

What advice would you give to an amputee that might be struggling?
I would encourage fellow amputees to talk to their healthcare professionals. They are not going to tell them anything that they haven't heard before. They can give you direction on where to go and seek guidance. If all else fails, setup a peer visit with a fellow amputee like me or the patient advocates. Aimee Eckert and Amy Yates at Optimus Prosthetics are two very inspirational human beings.
What has Optimus Prosthetics meant to you? How would you describe your experience with Optimus Prosthetics?
So much, that it is hard to put into words - but I'll give it a try. Sam at the front desk, with her welcoming smile and great attitude has always made me feel like I made the right decision coming to Optimus. Laura, with her "can overcome any obstacle" frame of mind and her knowledge and skill let me know that I couldn't be in better hands. The rest of the staff, from Glenn to Amanda to Aimee and Amy, have made me so comfortable that I knew I was on the road to success.

We're Moving!

Optimus Prosthetics' Columbus office will soon have a new place to call home.  

Construction continues to progress.   This new space will include more patient rooms, more restrooms, a bigger lobby and a coffee nook!

Stay tuned for updates and our grand opening!

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