All heart, no legs: a story of strength and determination

This is Jaydee. He's all heart.


In 1983, the professors in graduate school emphasized that we were to use the more respectful term, “residual limb,” when referring to a patient’s amputated arm or leg. “Stump care” became “residual limb management.” So when I first met Jaydee, who had just come home with a recent left leg above-the-knee amputation, I was careful to use the appropriate wording during my initial home care occupational therapy visit. He responded so matter-of-factly, “Oh, you mean my stump?” That’s when I knew he was special.

The amputation was still healing, the wounds were deep. He endured daily, painful, wound care treatments and dressing changes, often followed by occupational and physical therapy. He had a hospital bed and a variety of medical equipment and supplies set up in his library. When I first visited with Jaydee, the hospital bed was his immediate and only environment. It was where he slept, ate, bathed, dressed, shaved, brushed his teeth, listened to music, watched TV, and talked on the phone.

Stairglides were installed outside and inside. Access to outside meant access to the car, medical appointments, and more importantly, the community. Access upstairs meant showering and the healing effects of water. The library was located on the main floor of the house, along with the kitchen, living room, dining room, work area and a powder room.


Jaydee endured much pain in those beginning months as the wound was debrided and healed. His wife diligently supported and provided his care (and still does). Despite unnerving pain, Jaydee persevered daily. His willingness to try any proposed suggestion, technique or maneuver is a therapist’s dream.

To be a part of the transition of a man in bed, to a man in, about, and out of house is a thrill and an honor.

At the time of discharge from home care occupational therapy, Jaydee had achieved mastery in his ability to take care of himself, as well as mastery of his home environment – inside and out.

He either sponge bathed at the sink in the powder room or rode the stair glide up to the bathtub equipped with a bench for showering, toileted himself in the powder room on a special seat, emptied the dishwasher alternating sitting and standing on one leg, and even cooked a mean bacon and egg breakfast. He could ride the stairglide down to the street level, ride in the front passenger seat of the car or toil about the garage. He was hopping short distances on one leg with a walker, looking forward to the day when his wounds healed and he could begin prosthetic training.


Months later, I ran into Jaydee’s wife in the grocery store. She informed me that Jaydee would soon be coming home from his second amputation. This time, it was the right leg above the knee amputation, which was recently revised to be at an even higher level than the initial surgery. He had sustained pressure sores as well.

I was cautiously worried about his spirits when I arrived for this second round of home care occupational therapy.

I should have known better than to question my faith in this heroic man. Upon my arrival, he was his cheery self, waiting with open arms and ready to go to work again. The concentration at in-patient rehab was primarily on obtaining the proper wheelchair for him -- a custom, tilt-in-space, power chair. His wife received training on how to use a mechanical lift and body sling to help him get in and out of bed. We were starting again at the same location: the hospital bed, the place for sleeping, eating, toileting, bathing, grooming, watching TV, reading, and talking on the phone.


Jaydee, as casual as ever, referred to his legs as his stumps. I have worked with other double amputee patients before, but the level at which his most recent and revised amputation was done left very little leverage length. His new stump was even shorter than his old stump. Jaydee in his bipedal days, stood at 6 feet, 3. Consequently, sitting up and balancing on short stumps would be challenging. Furthermore, a sacral (tailbone) pressure wound had developed during his prolonged hospitalization which required an alternating air mattress for healing.

Sitting up in bed, Jaydee was like a buoy floating on rough waters. Fortunately, his arms are what his wife and physical therapist lovingly dubbed “orangutan arms,” since they extend beyond the length of his torso. He adeptly learned to use those long arms to hold onto the bed rails, the hanging bed trapeze, the arms of the wheelchair….anything to keep himself from falling. Yet, when we did try to work on sitting balance and he couldn’t right himself, his falls to the mattress were nothing less than “gracious,” only encouraging him to get up and try again.


His physical therapist and I worked together and brainstormed various techniques and equipment to help Jaydee regain mastery over his environment… to extend his world beyond that hospital bed, again.

He quickly learned how to maneuver from the bed to the power wheelchair and back by himself without a mechanical lift. Always up for challenges, he soon re-conquered the commode, the stairglide, the upstairs tub with the bench for showering, and the backseat of his Prius.

Using the joystick, he can power down the ramp to the street for strolls with friends or to get the mail. He can fill the cat’s bowls with food and water and has even run the vacuum from his wheelchair. He is back at the computer with the help from a friend who constructed a wheelchair accessible desk from an old door. He has once again moved beyond the hospital bed. Best of all, he can make his famous bacon and eggs again.


Through it all, Jaydee has never said, “no.” To every suggestion, recommendation or crazy idea, Jaydee’s consistent unfailing response has always been, “Okay, let’s try it.”

In rehabilitation, there is no one correct way to accomplish a task. Individual strengths, weaknesses, desires, values and environments are too varied.

Jaydee listens and participates with an open mind and open heart to solving everyday problems, which to him, are only temporary obstacles to his independence.

His legs are missing, but his heart is ever present.

  (Lynda has been an occupational therapist for 26 years)

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