Scott Millsop (left) hiking at Brainard Lake, Colorado
When did your amputation occur?
I was admitted to the ER in January 2011 with a serious infection in my left foot. There were three amputation surgeries performed over a period of a couple of months. First was part of the foot itself, then at the ankle to prevent the further spread of infection, and finally after a couple of months, a mid-calf, below knee amputation was performed, which is the current state of my remnant leg.
What was the cause of your amputation? Are there any details that led up surgery?
There were a lot of factors that led to the amputation. I got an infection in my foot. There is no certainty about the cause, but it was probably related to losing a toenail which left the foot open to infection. I was a type 2 diabetic for over a decade, but it seemed to be in control with pills for quite a long time, and then it wasn't. I didn't really understand what the blood sugar readings and A1C numbers meant, and in fact I pretty much ignored it. After all, I just took a pill for years and everything was fine. I did not know how wrong things can get when things go wrong.
The circulation in my legs was compromised, so the antibiotics the doctors prescribed did not reach the site of the infection. The infection got worse. It got painful. When the pain got so bad that I borrowed a wheelchair, my family intervened and took me to the emergency room.
If I don't mention the fact that I was a heavy smoker I won't really be addressing the question of causes. Diabetes and cigarettes do not go together well. I recall saying "Hold on a minute" at the door to the hospital so I could smoke a last cigarette, then my son wheeled me into the ER.
A pretty lengthy blur phase followed that. I know there were multiple surgeries, including an aortic bypass that was performed on the day of the massive ice storm that shut down most of the Midwest. I was in the hospital for weeks and then in rehab for months. The diabetes made me a slow healer. The pain meds made me groggy. But I slowly woke up to the new reality and resolved to heal.
Years ago I lived in Colorado, so I told anyone who would listen that I was going to go hiking in the Rockies again. Most of the caregivers said "That's nice Mr. Millsop. It's good to have goals" but most of them didn't believe me for a minute. Lisa did. She did physical therapy for me, and she really pushed me. I'm lucky and thankful to have met her. I spent every available minute in the exercise room and I've continued to do that at the gym. My diabetes numbers are good now, and I feel better now than I felt 25 years ago. My diabetes doctor recently told me that likelihood that I would still be alive six years after the surgeries was near zero. He used the word "miracle". I don't dispute that but a lot of work and expertise has helped.
Tell me how you were first introduced to Optimus Prosthetics. What was your first impression?
I met John Brandt, CPO while I was still mostly staring at the ceiling in the hospital. Several other prosthetics people came by to drop of business cards, but John clearly saw me as a person and began working with me before I was ever I client. He did that by listening, offering realistic perspectives and hope. I remember laughing with John. There wasn't a lot of laughter in the hospital. Then I met Ellie Thompson, CPA. She did SO MUCH work on my behalf. I think she did that for everyone. We became friends. She has moved off to New England but we still stay in touch.
I work with David Frautschi, CP now. I recently had a little difficulty with my prosthesis rubbing my leg and went to see David. It was tricky but he's smart and determined. He tried several things. The last time I saw him he made a tweak and asked "How does it feel now?" I said, "Perfect" and it has stayed like that.
What has been the been the best/worst thing about being an amputee?
Amputation was a turning point, of course. In my case it was a turn on to a better road, I think. There are some hassles, but most of it is no more difficult than putting on some hiking boots.
I was at the gym recently in the locker room and there was a young kid in there, too. He came over near me and looked at my prosthetic leg. Then he looked at my face. Then back at my leg. He went back and forth a few times, then finally he couldn't contain his question. He said, "Is that a robot leg?" I said "Yeah" and he said "Where can I get one?"
Are there any opportunities that have presented to you since becoming an amputee?
When I say "Yes I can", people are more inclined to believe me.
What has been the biggest misconception you have had since becoming an amputee?
Limb loss is particularly terrifying to most people. It is unimaginable. But in fact it can just be something you can adapt to. I think we're lucky that the culture has become more accepting of people who are different. I suppose I thought I would feel "different" but I don't.
If you had one suggestion you could offer about the prosthetic process, being an amputee, and/or the surgery, what would it be?
In my case I think there were medical mistakes. There were delays and times when the doctors didn't listen. There were also times when I didn't listen. I had no idea how serious my condition was and my doctor didn't communicate it to me. Through the whole process of surgery and prosthetics my advice is to insist on wellness. That involves paying attention and working through difficulties. There's probably some pain involved. It really is life or death. I suggest choosing life.
What has been your biggest challenge since your amputation?
I've had to learn a lot about patience.
What do you wish other people knew or understood about being an amputee?
If people had the sort of understanding that most other animals have, they would be better off. There are plenty of three - legged dogs in the world. Sometimes it doesn't even slow them down, and the other dogs don't pay much attention that they're missing a limb.
I've seen some pictures of prosthetics on animals. Most of us have seen them. We think they're wonderful. We're happy for them. Maybe we should feel the same about people.
What would you tell someone who is pending an amputation?
I have a friend who is facing a possible amputation. His doctors recommend it, but he is resisting. There is that fear of limb loss that is causing him to put it off. But he is in pain, and I think the fear is very hurtful too. I would tell him - I have told him - do it. Get past the pain and fear. With prosthetics it is possible to get to the point where there is hardly need to give it a thought.
What advice would you give to an amputee that might be struggling?
Persist! There's bound to be some adjustment. Some of it will test your patience. Some of it may be uncomfortable. Know that going in and plan to push past it. You want to gather all of the positive resources you can. The devices and the people that are available to work for you can really lighten the load. The things that are possible are fantastic. Most of us amputees would have struggled to survive not long ago at all, but I've seen plenty of people who are actually better for the experience of losing a limb. I'm one of them.
What has Optimus meant to you/Experience w/ Optimus?
The people at Optimus are so great that I sometimes overlook the profound science and engineering that is their daily practice. They never seem to lose the connection to the patient while going through the rigors of finding solutions. It must be easy to become discouraged when every case is different and difficult, everyone you work with is in the middle of a life changing experience, when people bring you their fears, depression and anger. But I never see it. It's all healing. There are plenty of tears of joy in this experience. From the minute you walk in the door you encounter a team that is gifted in the healing process.