Amputation Does NOT Equal Failure

Amputation is a permanent alteration to one’s body that can be extremely traumatic. Despite this truth, it is time that we stop labeling amputation as “failure.” I have heard too many stories of doctors doing everything medically possible to “save” a person’s limb even when the known outcome of such “saving” is a barely functional limb riddled with pain before ever giving an individual the option of amputation. This person’s limb may be “saved” in the sense that they get to keep their biological parts, but their life can be fraught with limitations (and sometimes countless surgeries).

I’m not saying that life as an amputee is all sunshine & rainbows, and there are definitely aspects of it that are very hard both physically and emotionally, I just think we need to reframe the conversation. Instead of looking at amputation as a last resort (aka doctors have “failed”), we need to look at it as a viable option that should be objectively presented to those who are having to make such a tough decision.

My friend Alina went through years of trying to save her limb, only to rediscover all she was capable of doing after she amputated her foot (you can read more about her story here). I knew a few guys at Walter Reed who went through years of limb salvage and were only able to walk with the assistance of a cane. They ultimately chose amputation and both were back up and running within a few months.

Alina wearing running clothes and a running leg and flexing for the camera looking strong

My parents, too, had to make a difficult choice when I was a baby. I had a perfect little left foot with 5 healthy toes, and they could have chosen years of lengthening surgeries and bracing in order for me to keep my biological left leg (to read more about this decision, check out the interview I did with my mom at this link). Lucky for me, my parents understood that amputating at a young age would enable me to grow up without knowing any different, without the years of painful surgeries, and with the ability to climb trees, play sports, and keep up with my friends on the playground. This was the right decision for me (although lengthening is right for others), so I’m grateful to my parents for being able to see through the initial shock of cutting off part of my body in order to give me the opportunity to be as functional as I am today. Today I run, bike, swim, have a husband and 3 loving cats, work as a disability rights attorney, and serve as an ambassador and occasionally model for Skirt Sports. Did amputation equal failure in my case? I’d like to think not…

watter bottles, bag of index cards, and me on the track - putting in distance on the track makes me faster and mentally tough

Is success after amputation everyone’s story? Of course not. Should individuals faced with this decision be provided all options with the good, bad, and ugly facts of each option presented in an honest and objective manner? Absolutely. Nothing is guaranteed, but individuals making this decision should get all options without any negative opinions from doctors and medical providers cast onto any one specific choice, which is what classifying amputation as failure does. Thus, we must start thinking of amputation as an option that could potentially present an individual with a good functional outcome rather than as a failure.

3 Replies to “Amputation Does NOT Equal Failure”

    1. Hi Jodie – What area do you live in? There may be some adaptive sports programs in your area that could help you get started. Please feel free to send me a private message via the contact page if you’d like to chat more about this.

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  1. This is so very important! I was not able to make that decision for my daughter at a young age as she was adopted at age 6 with a congenital birth “defect”. Later, when faced with making choices for best function with a prosthesis, I was talked into something I was not really comfortable with by a doctor who believed that saving natural joints (rotationplasty) vs. having a prosthetic knee joint was a far superior choice. It was insinuated and even stated directly that I would be choosing a lesser quality of life for my daughter if I did not do this procedure for her and not serving her best interests.

    When things went dreadfully wrong, my poor child (and me as well), were put through months of agonizing and traumatizing “limb salvage” where I literally almost lost my daughter and in other ways, truly did based on how this effected her. In the end, she lost all but a few inches of her leg and while difficult, she is surviving and even thriving. I never felt right about my original decision, but when you have doctors pushing and treating amputations as failures or in my case, bad parenting, it truly makes the decisions so hard. Then, as soon as things went bad (immediately post op and then 24 hours later), I had a deep sense that she would lose her entire leg. Of course we tried to salvage but, I was ready to let go and should have been given options FAR sooner than I was so save my daughter so much trauma and pain. All because a doctor’s ego and a hospital culture that supported letting surgeons do this even when causing harm to the overall well-being of a patient just to save a limb. We literally had to leave the state to even gain care that would bother to look at function vs. length and help us make the right decision and care for her limb loss.

    Long comment to say, YES, and thank you for bringing up this super important facet to the decisions around amputation, limb loss, failure and acceptance.

    Liked by 1 person

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