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Gotta Love Change

May 19, 2023 |

By Cathi Uhles, Certified Peer Visitor

My life has always been an example of learning to live with change. I lived in 11 different homes before I turned 18, and since have lived in 3 different countries and many places in the US. I have always embraced change, but beginning in October of 2010, I had to learn to embrace a whole new kind of adjustment. It was a significant long-term change in my life.  

I have had chronic arthritis for a number of years which caused my left ankle to fail. Following an attempted ankle fusion, I developed a bone infection which led to 2 years of exhaustive surgery to try to salvage the ankle and limb. Eventually, the bones in my foot and ankle began dissolving due to the infection, and the decision was made to amputate the leg below the knee. I had about four weeks before my amputation, and I didn’t know anyone who had gone through this process to talk to and find out what it was like and what to expect. That was a difficult time. I was 59 years old. It was such a difficult time, but healing came quickly, and a new prosthetic began to help me get back on my feet.  

My prosthetist told me about the Amputee Coalition’s Facebook page during my early adjustment to my prosthetic. I went on that page and found answers to my questions about my new life from others who were in my position or had similar issues. It was such a great resource!  

I have been part of the Amputee Coalition ever since. I appreciate the support that it has provided over the years. Finally, in 2019, I was able to attend my first Amputee Coalition Conference in San Antonio, Texas. It was such an overwhelming experience to be in a room that first day with hundreds of other amputees! The workshops, opportunities to engage in meaningful conversations and learn from others’ experiences, the exhibit hall featuring diverse equipment vendors for amputees, and the wide range of learning environments provided at the conference made it an invaluable experience for both me and my husband, who accompanied me. We came away with such a sense of being part of a community!   

One of the things I have found most helpful to me as I continue my journey has been the conferences the Coalition has every year. Last year in 2022, we attended the Palm Desert Conference. Again, such a great experience, especially coming out of Covid, having had such isolation for a couple of years. There continue to be new things to learn from workshops to hacks others have found to help with everyday issues. They even had adaptive sports classes in swimming, tennis, and golf, which were so beneficial. My husband and I will also attend this year in Orlando and look forward to connecting with people we have gotten to know and learning new things to continue to engage more fully with life.  

As I delved deeper into the Amputee Coalition’s array of opportunities, I discovered the Certified Peer Visitor Program—a volunteer role dedicated to providing support and companionship to individuals affected by amputation. After knowing how lonely it was at the beginning of my time as an amputee, I wanted to become a Certified Peer Visitor to be there for others, either going through an amputation or for them afterward. I was able to take the training for certification at that first conference in 2019. I have been one ever since. I love being a Peer Visitor. I have been with people before they face amputation, as they are recovering or struggling with issues during their early phases of regaining their life. One of my favorite things about being a Peer Visitor is seeing people come out on the other side of amputation and begin to not only re-engage in life again but challenge themselves to continue to try new things and be involved in their community and the Amputee Coalition community. These visits also allow me to share with the new amputees all the resources the Amputee Coalition has available to help them.  

Change can be a challenging thing in people’s lives. I have learned that by embracing it, learning all you can about your circumstances, and challenging yourself to keep trying new things, you can re-engage in life – it may be different than what you thought your life would be, but you’ll be stronger and make the most of your life.