By Jewel Connelly, Communications Specialist
After narrowly surviving several sudden, major health events, Rex Burruss made a life-changing decision which has set him on a new course: he attended his first peer support group meeting. Today, Rex is an actively involved Amputee Coalition volunteer, serving the community as a Certified Peer Visitor and virtual support group leader for the eastern time zone. He has even contributed his graphic design skills to help create two resource guides for people living with limb loss or limb difference. Gaining a wealth of valuable information and relationships through peer support has in turn empowered Rex to help change others’ lives in the same way.
After a massive heart attack, Rex awoke from a coma to face the reality of multiple amputations including his left foot when he developed gangrene. He also became septic from edema, beating the odds and finally on his way to recovery. It was at the rehab center where one of his sisters first picked up a brochure from the Amputee Foundation of Greater Atlanta. For a long time, Rex wasn’t interested in going to a support group, thinking that it would be more like a pity party. Eventually his well-meaning friends wore him down (in a good way). “The first day I was able to walk all day without the use of a secondary device I called one of my best friends and said, ‘their meeting is tonight. I will go if you’ll go with me,’ Rex said. “So, we went, and it was the most amazing, life-changing thing.”
Realizing it was more of a resource group than what he had thought a support group would be immediately changed Rex’s perspective. “I was so wrong because there were people who had been through different things than I, but we were all on the same journey,” Rex shared. “We had different paths to get to that core journey, but we were all traveling on the same road. And they could teach me things that perhaps physical therapists could not in the time that they were allotted.” Like how to change the lightbulbs in his home with high ceilings. Seeing others like himself doing things that he hoped to do encouraged Rex to return the following month and ask more questions.
Unknown to him at the time, the moderator, Julie Suttles-Strickland would play a big part in leading him to become a peer visitor and eventually co-chair the same group he first attended. One day Julie asked Rex to visit with a recent amputee, explaining how she volunteered as a CPV with the Amputee Coalition. Before he knew it, she was determined that he should also become a peer visitor not only because of his progress, but the career and life experiences which lent themselves to the role. “I think you would be great at this and that everything you’ve done throughout your life has led you to this new purpose,” Julie said. After Julie moved, she asked if he could take over the support group at Emory and Rex has since served the greater Atlanta community with a monthly hybrid meeting.
After going through an amputation, it’s a lot like starting over. Relearning how to do the daily activities and hobbies you enjoy in a safe and adaptive way. Rex talks about how amputees’ involvement in peer support creates an opportunity to share with others and help them find their way when things look very dark. “I think that we’ve been given a unique opportunity with the Amputee Coalition to help people find their way back to wellness and success in life,” Rex said.
He even had some interactions during the 2023 National Conference where he was able to sit with individuals and remind them to have hope for a better, happier future. Surrounding yourself with a supportive community and peers who understand, the journey becomes much easier when you decide not to go through it alone. “We can either choose to let the health crisis that we endured destroy us, or we can let it rebuild us,” Rex said. “I chose the latter.”
If you are interested in learning more about the Certified Peer Visitor Program or would like to request a visit, please visit our webpage. Also, if you would like to browse Rex’s t-shirt designs for the limb loss community, visit his Etsy store AmpuTshirts.