It was March, 2018, when Gary Bragg heard the words that felt like a dagger to his heart. “We must take your leg.” Those words, he said, “beat him hard.” He describes that day as being one of the lowest of his sixty-three years, comparing it to the days when he lost his mom and sister to cancer and to the days when his wife’s parents passed away. It was on April 4, 2018, that Gary went into surgery and had a below- knee amputation of his right leg.
Gary’s surgery had been months in the making. Seven months prior to his April surgery, Gary had fallen twelve feet from a ladder, shattering his leg and leaving his fibula with forty-two broken pieces of bone. In the months following his accident, measures were taken to help heal his leg and avoid amputation. Gary had forty-two screws and five plates holding his bone in place. However, once Gary began to bear weight on his leg, the screws and plates began pulling away from the bone. It became clear that Gary’s bones were dying. Amputation would be necessary to keep infection from spreading through his body and would give him a better quality of life with a prosthetic leg. His pain was intense those seven months. Gary’s wife, Joy, was pained by his suffering as well. “When you see your mate in such pain, and he is sweating with every step, and it has been seven months, you know something is really wrong here. I had such a peace about the amputation because I knew to get rid of the sick bone and leave only healthy bone would finally allow him to recover and be able to heal.”
Prior to his amputation, Gary’s life was filled with activity. He ran marathons, biked 100 mile tours, kayaked, wind surfed, split wood for the stove, managed their ten rental properties, mowed the lawn, played kickball with his grandchildren, and was a Pastor of Harvest Baptist Church of Wapakoneta. The realities of recovery hit hard post-surgery. “I had no idea how hard it would be to walk without a limp or how hard it would be to run or how hard it would be to split wood, preach, do a hospital visit, get in and out of my truck or even put on a pair of pants! I had in my mind I would put on a prosthetic leg and GO! Not so. It took lots of time and exercise,” Gary recalls. Joy too noticed the difficulties of everything involved with the socks, sleeves, stump shrinkers, and adjustments to the sockets. She noted, “I just thought he would get a leg, it would fit, and we would learn to go about our day.”
Despite the challenges, the Braggs have remained encouraged, relying on each other, their family, and their faith. Gary hasn’t let the difficulties of recovery keep him from accomplishing the tasks he performed before his amputation. Instead, he takes each day in stride, accomplishing what he can that day. His path to walking with a prosthesis started with walking mailbox to mailbox, then a half mile walk, and eventually two miles. Next, he started running, mailbox to mailbox, then electric pole to electric pole. Now he is running up to four-mile stretches and completed his first 5k this November! Gary helped Joy hoe their garden this past summer--on his knees! They have adapted his wet suit to protect his stump so he could crawl into the water from the dock and windsurf on his knees! “My challenges are my goals,” is how Gary looks at it. Joy encourages as well, “It is good to be creative and find a way to adapt and do what you want. Go for it! Live your life like you did before limb loss, being creative to accomplish that!”
Gary and Joy look forward in hope to the future. Gary desires to get a water leg so he can swim in the ocean and windsurf standing up. He wants a running blade leg so he can run longer distances like a half marathon or more. He hopes to one day bike the 160-mile RAIN tour in Indiana again, hike a rough trail, play kickball with his grandchildren, and climb a ladder anytime he needs to in order to care for his rental properties. He offers this encouragement to those who may be struggling as amputees,
“Be honest in your prayers and tell God you don’t like your situation! It is ok! Tell Him, ‘It is not fair – please help me handle this and rise above this!’ Pick out things you are thankful for. For me, I am not on antibiotics anymore. I had been on them for seven months trying to heal. I am not sick to my stomach from all the meds. I am not on pain meds. Praise God! I have eyes to see. I am not blind, and some are. I lost just one leg. Others have lost both. I have two knees, some don’t. The sun is shining outside. I have purpose and people are counting on me. My wife and kids love me. The snow is beautiful. Dinner smells like it will taste good!”
For those supporting a loved one with limb loss, Joy offers this suggestion,
“Go only one day at a time and keep a journal so you can see progress and rejoice in small steps. This process takes time. Days. Months. I can handle one day at a time and try to do it well. The journal helps us see where we have been and where we are today. Just think in a year what we could do! How exciting!”
It is true. It’s been seven months since the news that was a dagger to his heart, and Gary and Joy are showing that their attitudes of thankfulness, their family, and their faith are true sources of strength in the road of recovery and that, as an amputee, healing comes to the heart and body from each day seeing if you can get one mailbox or one electric pole farther than you did the day before.