Amputees talk about life without limbs

Amputee support group in Austintown

AUSTINTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – The area’s only amputee support group meets every two to three months at Western Reserve Orthotics and Prosthetics on Mahoning Avenue in Austintown.

It met last Thursday afternoon and they allowed WYTV 33 News anchor Stan Boney to sit in and listen to them talk about life without limbs. The 11 amputees who attended the support group all had various degrees of missing legs.

There were six men and five women and the youngest was 43, while the oldest was 78. And they all had stories to tell.

“I had four knee replacements and they all got staph infections in them,” Issie Dunlevy of West Virginia said.

“I had a landscape construction accident,” Cara Fortunato of Boardman said.

“We were on a motorcycle. And that is how I Iost my leg,” Jennifer Costlow, 43, of St. Clairsville said.

“I was working at Wean United downtown Youngstown. A 3,000-piece of steel fell on my leg, right above my ankle. Crushed it,” Rick Grope said.

Grope is the owner of Western Reserve Orthotics and Prosthetics, so he not only is an amputee, but also is in the industry.

“Biggest advances are the composite materials they are using to keep the weight down,” Grope said.

But Grope said the advances also are pushing the costs up.

“My first leg was almost $900. My last leg was $15,000,” he said.

It is the cost that has prevented Tim Couch of Boardman from getting something better: A prosthetic with a microprocessor that bends the knee when he walks. Medicare called it “medically unnecessary.”

“It is hindering me from ditching this cane and having the use of my arms again,” Couch said.

Grope said insurance is a big factor.

“It was painful knowing that I could not do a lot of the things that I did before,” Diane Scheiben of Alliance said.

She also was in a motorcycle accident.

For those involved in accidents, the group talked about what it was like in the days immediately following.

“They were ready to discharge me from the hospital and it was like, what do I do? I don’t have a leg. I don’t know where to go. I don’t know who to see. I don’t know what to do,” Costlow said.

“And I think for me, a lot of it, is the phantom limb pain. I have a lot of it all the time, everyday, 24/7, and I just deal with it,” Fortunato said.

Fortunato has a $70,000 leg, which allows her to still landscape.

“It’s like, for us, we don’t want to be dependent on people and I know for me it has been been very difficult to ask others for help,” Fortunato said.

Henry Barrios’s amputation relieved severe pain. When in public though, he still needs a walker.

“Sometimes I even kid about it, like you have the plague. They move to the side or they see you coming. It is courtesy, but it’s different,” Barrio said.

Harry Reinhart of Canfield is a double amputee who came down with streptocossus pheumniae that went septic.

“I am probably really lucky. I got both hands and my fingers. Could have been a lot worse. They told me I am a miracle,” Reinhart said.

Hubbard’s John Pieton showed off his zippered pant leg, which gives him easy access to his prosthetic. But there was no one prouder off her leg than Issie Dunlevy of West Virgina.

“Hey guys, look. It is a Pittsburgh Steelers leg,” Dunlevy said. “And it helps having something you love on your leg. It helps me.”

The whole session took about an hour and not once did anyone cry. No one even came close.

No one complained either, but the attendees said the complainers don’t come to the meetings.

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