July 02, 2012

Last week I attended our monthly support group for dialysis patients and we were fortunate to have Tom as our guest speaker.  Tom is a dialysis patient who prior to his diagnosis led a very active life, hiking, biking, running, etc.  As a crisis team paramedic, he was a first responder to hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which is where his doctors believe he contracted the bacteria that blew out his kidneys.  Tom’s misfortune doesn’t end there.  A few months later he got an infection in his left foot which traveled up his leg, resulting in a below-the-knee amputation.  This is where his inspirational story really begins.

For the first six months, Tom wallowed in anger and self-pity for all that he had lost — his job, his independence, the ability to participate in recreational sports.  He had an overwhelming feeling of being “less than.”  His deep sense of pride and machismo created barriers to accepting help from friends and family until one day when the elderly gentleman next door said, “I’m going to build you a ramp from your house to your yard so you can get some fresh air and sunshine.”  Tom didn’t want anything to do with it but didn’t have the heart to tell the old guy “No” because Tom saw that this was giving his neighbor a sense of purpose.

Well, that unwanted ramp ended up being the turning point to Tom’s rehab and recovery.  He used it every day and decided to begin reinventing his life.  He got a prosthetic, and had his ups and downs to be sure, but began setting realistic, attainable goals.  Instead of climbing the whole flight of stairs in his two-story house, he cheered at mastering one step at a time.  Long story short, Tom is back to work as a paramedic trainer — riding his bike 125 miles every weekend — and inspiring others to persevere.  Tom’s story of adaptation to his prosthetic and recovery is a good reminder to us all, not only to be grateful and make use of what we’ve got, but also to search inside ourselves for untapped character strength and resilience.

Moral of the story: get involved in something you love, whether it’s sports, art, writing, or bringing joy to others.  Find your purpose and don’t wait for a life changing event to do it.  Put your best foot forward!

Linda Sussman-Swiller is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in California providing Counseling, Coaching, and Case Management services with a specialty in Geriatric Social Work from the National Association of Social Workers. You can contact her through her website at www.therapyandlifecoach.com.

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