Rehab Insights is a weekly blog written by Burke Rehabilitation professionals to offer practical information for patients, families and the community. Its goal is to educate the reader on relevant topics in rehabilitation, general health and wellness.

Finding Support Following the Loss of a Limb

Most trees have limbs too numerous to count. Humans, on the other hand, have only four. To a tree, the loss of several branches has minimal impact. To a person, losing a limb is life altering — at least initially.

April is National Limb Loss Awareness Month. It comes fast on the heels of the Winter Paralympics, where athletes equipped with prosthetic limbs compete for gold, silver and bronze. In the recently concluded 2018 Games at PyeongChang, South Korea, the United States collected 36 medals,13 of them gold.

While the Paralympics are a testament to amputee athletes meeting challenges at the highest physical level, more than two million Americans have suffered limb loss. This month is a time to recognize all amputees — athletes or not — who are realizing their own personal triumphs.

Every amputee faces the rigors of surgery, physical therapy, adjusting to a prosthesis and navigating new ways to participate in life activities. In addition to the physical changes and discomfort, each person undergoes his or her emotional adjustment.

A number of resources are available to help, and Burke’s Amputee Program is dedicated to making these resources familiar to Burke patients and to the larger community.

One well-used resource, for example, is an online community network provided by the Hanger Clinic, called AMPOWER. This online resource seeks to “empower and strengthen those affected by amputation or limb difference through peer mentorship, educational resources and community events. “

The network contains forums on a multitude of topics, from easing phantom limb pain and finding rehab programs for elderly amputees, to offering unused right hand gloves, posted by a skier who only needs left hand gloves. 

Since amputees also benefit greatly from in-person peer support, Burke sponsors an Amputee Support Group that is run by Melissa Garretto, Physical Therapist and Team Leader for Burke’s Orthopedic program. Garretto, who has been running the group for six years, says it is “a place for amputees to connect with others, compare their goals and challenges, and also share their knowledge with newer members.”

Linda O’Brien, a member of the group, describes the experience firsthand:  “Burke has made this new chapter of my life so easy, and by following up with my support group I have a new extended family. Meeting people with similar loss, and hearing their stories and how they have coped is inspirational. I have set goals for myself and achieved them, then set my next one. Now, I feel I am able to help others with limb loss as well. That was a unexpected goal!”

Group leader Garretto considers it important to reach out and “recruit” patients who are in the first and second phases of inpatient treatment for amputation. She also connects with outpatients in Burke satellite clinics and encourages community members, who are not Burke patients, to join the support group as well.

The group, which meets on the last Tuesday of each month, is small, but members can continue to stay in touch via email even after they are no longer participating in person. All former participants receive a monthly newsletter, containing articles of interest and information about the community, so they can ask questions, or share information with current group participants.

Every August, the Support Group holds its annual Barbeque, which serves as a reunion for present and former members.

For more information on the amputee support group, contact Melissa Garretto at (914) 597-2389 or by email at: mgarretto@burke.org.

 --Carol Vartuli

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Burke's Rehab Insights blog is intended to provide general information about rehabilitation and other health care topics. It should not take the place of medical care. Burke staff cannot comment on individual medical cases or give medical advice.

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