Turning Loss Back into Life: Amputee Program Patient HighlightsBeyond Magazine
Jun 14, 2021
The loss of a limb is devastating. Yet, there is a place at Brooks where this type of loss is replaced with hope, caring, camaraderie and – yes – even laughter. The Brooks Rehabilitation Amputee Program provides specialized care for patients throughout the Brooks system. The multidisciplinary team is composed of physicians, physical therapists, prosthetists, psychologists and other specialties, all dedicated to integrated, patient-centric care that dramatically improves outcomes.
Right Above Knee Amputation Due to Gun Shot Wound
On Oct. 21, 2018, Jalen Bryant and his girlfriend were going to tailgate at a Jacksonville Jaguars game with Jalen’s employer. His boss gave them tickets but as they were heading to the stadium, the unthinkable happened.
Jalen saw a commotion and heard what sounded like fireworks going off. He turned and saw a car coming down the street and felt what he described as a hot poker hitting him. He fell to the ground. Six people were shot by a drive-by shooter.
Physicians explained that Jalen was shot five times – three in his chest, one in the bicep that punctured his lung and one that shattered his hip and severed his artery. Jalen was becoming septic and his organs were shutting down. In eight days, Jalen had 10 surgeries, including one to remove his leg.
From that point on, Jalen moved from survival to recovery. He was transferred to Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital where he and his mom, Nikki, met the team who would care for him. They were educated on his amputation. He and his therapists practiced transfers from his wheelchair. They worked on strengthening and balance. Since his hip was shattered, he wasn’t able to use a prosthetic yet. He was discharged to home heath while his hip healed, then progressed to outpatient therapy.
Getting the right prosthetic and the right fit can sometimes be a challenge. It was a personally frustrating time for Jalen and he started to become depressed. Dr. Weiss suggested he meet with one of Brooks’ psychologists who helped Jalen see that he wasn’t a victim, but a survivor. He also met other amputees and realized he wasn’t alone.
Steve Pompilio, Jalen’s outpatient physical therapist, patiently worked through the process of finding the right prosthetic with Jalen and Geoff Hemmen from Hanger Clinic. When Dr. Weiss saw Jalen in March 2020, he was amazed at his progress. He recommended an advanced prosthetic with a microprocessor in the knee to help him achieve even more of his goals.
“Dr. Weiss and Steve made it to where I know my baby is going to be ok. They’ve gone through the trenches with him. Every time we’re about to hit a wall, one of them astounds me. They refuse to give up on my baby and I know that makes him not give up on himself,” Nikki said through tears of gratitude.
Bilateral Below Knee Amputations Secondary to Sepsis
At 22, Katherine Subirana developed sepsis in her hometown of Ponce, Puerto Rico. The sepsis damaged tissue in her hands and feet. Surgery to remove the damaged tissue made it worse. She was discharged from the hospital with dry gangrene and no treatment plan.
Katherine learned to care for her wounds and do all of her wound dressings herself. “One day when I was doing my dressings, my foot just dropped in my hand. I was alone with my mom, and we didn’t know what to do. There was no blood. Everything was dry. I think like six months after that, my second foot fell off.”
For years, Katherine hid this secret from her family until she met a doctor in Puerto Rico who would guide her to the help she needed. After working with Dr. Tito for two and a half years, she and her mother traveled to Florida to meet Dr. Weiss and the amputee program team at Brooks Rehabilitation. Katherine was referred for revision surgery to her limbs so that she would be able to try prosthetics without pain or further damage.
“When I first met Katherine, she hadn’t walked in 10 years,” said Brooks physical therapist, Steve Pompilio, PT. “My job was to get her walking and work on her balance, strength and core stability. It’s really cool to see a person blossom into a whole other person in a matter of six months.”
For the first time, Katherine was able to gain some independence. She got a new SUV with hand controls and her own apartment in Jacksonville. She is also now working as a chemist at the Newborn Screening Laboratory, Bureau of Public Health Laboratories at Florida Department of Health – a job that she loves and enjoys.
Traumatic Right Above Knee Amputation After Ejection From Motor Vehicle
In 2018, Joel Martin was driving home angry and in an altered state of mind, something he’s regretted every day since. He crashed and was thrown from his vehicle into a tree. His ankles took the worst blow and he had to have his right foot amputated. As if that wasn’t enough trauma, on Christmas Day that same year, he fell and broke his femur right above his knee.
The next year and a half was a blur of infections and pain. Multiple surgeries left Joel unable to work, and his physical challenges took a toll on his mental state, marriage and family. While looking for alternatives to opioids, he discovered the Brooks Behavioral Medicine (BBM) program. “I still listen to the lessons from that program. They helped me to be in control of my pain rather than letting the pain control me,” said Joel. He also joined a local chapter of Celebrate Recovery at Journey Church, where he is learning to live free of life’s hurts, hang-ups and habits.
During rehabilitation from one of his surgeries, the BBM program director recommended that Joel meet with Dr. Weiss for a consultation. Joel was having trouble with his prosthetic because his body hadn’t healed properly. In May 2020, Joel had a revision on his amputation from below the knee to above the knee. “I feel blessed and wish I had done this sooner. It feels weird to say that. They kept trying to save my leg but once I had the above the knee amputation, it changed everything for me for the better.”
After therapy and medical care from the Brooks Amputee Program, Joel was physically and medically ready to work again. Dr. Weiss recommended him for a position at the Brooks Bartram campus, and he recently started in the new role. Joel’s main motivation for working at Brooks is to help and encourage others in similar situations to see that there is a light even when you feel like giving up.
Traumatic Above Knee Amputation Secondary to Being Hit by Car
Barthel Pickett and his wife Rose were about to leave on vacation in July 2019. Wanting a little extra spending money for the trip, Barthel decided to meet with one last landscaping client before they headed out of town. It was a decision that changed his life.
As Barthel and his nephew were talking outside with the client, a woman was speeding around the corner away from the accident she just caused a block away. The nephew was able to jump out of the way but Barthel and his client were not as lucky. She hit both of them, pinning Barthel to his truck. She continued trying to drive forward but her bumper was stuck. As she revved her car faster to escape, the force ripped Barthel’s right leg off, ruptured his spine, broke six ribs and broke his left leg in three different places.
“God had his hand on me. He kept me alive. The paramedics thought I was in shock because I felt no pain. I spoke to them the entire way to the trauma unit at UF Health Jacksonville,” said Barthel.
Rose, a certified nursing assistant, became Barthel’s personal caregiver. “She held my hand and prayed. She was with me every day and night, making sure I was getting the best care. This accident brought my wife and I closer to each other.” They spent 92 days at UF Health where Barthel had 15 surgeries.
Barthel was finally ready to begin inpatient rehabilitation. He heard great things about Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital (BRH) from his goddaughter who recovered there and refused to go anywhere else for care. “From day one, I felt inspired. I felt so much energy that I was willing to do whatever they asked me to do. I didn’t want to leave because I was making so much progress. But they sent me to outpatient therapy with Steve Pompilio,” said Barthel.
Barthel also met with Mike Richard, CPO/LPO from Advance Prosthetics and Orthotics. “I had no doubt he’d get a prosthetic that worked for him but I’ll admit I had my doubts that he’d ever be able to walk. It took me and two techs to get him to stand up the first time in my office.”
Dr. Weiss knew that Barthel’s weight was a contributing factor. At close to 350 pounds, walking with a prosthetic and a leg that was recently broken was going to be a challenge. Dr. Weiss called in Brooks dietician, Kerrin Going, MS, RD, LDN, to assist. Going worked with Barthel and Rose to create a nutritional plan to help get his weight down.
Not only was Barthel able to walk, but he actually walked better with the prosthetic because he could put more weight on it. He is now back to cleaning the yard and raking leaves at home.
Barthel’s positive attitude also contributed to his recovery. “Don’t worry about things you can’t control. Why be miserable when you can be happy? I’ve been surrounded by so many wonderful people that I don’t even look at my amputation as a curse, but a blessing. I’m not bitter. I keep asking what’s my next challenge? Because I am constantly overcoming.”
Left Above Knee Amputation Secondary to Motor Vehicle Accident and Bilateral Femur Fractures
On Sept. 16, 2019, Brian Ransom was driving friends Tajuan Richey and Keondre Moss when he lost control of the vehicle at a curve in the road. They crashed over the grassy median and slammed into a tree, splitting the car in half. Tajuan and Brian were seriously injured. Keondre did not survive.
Tajuan had multiple surgeries on his two severely broken legs, but doctors had no choice but to amputate his left leg. His right leg required skin grafts and plastic surgery as well. As soon as he was able to speak, the first question he asked was “Where’s Keondre?”
“When I first met Taj at Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital, he was wearing a photo of his best friend around his neck. He was suffering loss on many levels,” said Howard Weiss, DO. In addition to the physical aspects of his recovery, the Brooks Behavioral Medicine team helped him with his psychological recovery.
When Tajuan transitioned to outpatient therapy, he worked with Alicia Vogt, PT, DPT, in Orange Park, Fla. “He was a great patient and fun to work with. Taj always wanted to push the envelope and do more, which is what every therapist loves to see. Even though he experienced great tragedy and many set backs along his road to recovery, he was determined to walk again,” said Dr. Vogt.
The team of Dr. Weiss, Dr. Vogt and Geoff Hemmen from Hanger Clinic got Tajuan walking again using a prosthetic that combines hydraulics and a microchip. But Dr. Weiss was also concerned about his future.
“I asked him if he thought about college and what he’d like to do. He wanted to produce music and said he’d like to go to Bethune Cookman in Daytona Beach but his challenges were preventing him from applying,” said Dr. Weiss. “I helped connect him to other past patients who could help and he’s currently attending Bethune Cookman. I’m really proud of how far he’s come.”
“Dr. Weiss treats Taj like he’s his only patient. He called him the other day just to see how he was doing in school. He has Brooks and he has us. He’s a strong kid and he’s going to be all right,” said Albert Richey, Tajuan’s father