By Jewel Connelly, Communications Specialist
The commonality of limb loss or limb difference uniquely brings people together whose paths may never have crossed otherwise. Every year, the Amputee Coalition creates an opportunity for community members to gather at National Conference, making space for enriching conversations, education, and budding relationships that change lives. Joining this community at different points in their life, through various circumstances, attendees will come from across the country to Orlando, Florida, August 2-5, many for the first time. We connected with a few of our first-time attendees ahead of the 2023 conference to learn more about their individual journeys and what they are hoping to gain from the experience.
Transcending age and gender, the desire to connect with others who can relate to living with limb loss or limb difference emerged as a common theme. “I’m most looking forward to the camaraderie of like community,” Janet Stafford shared. “I think the more above-knee amputees I see who are up and around will inspire me to just keep going on the hard days and be diligent in my workouts.” In October 2022, Janet became an above-knee amputee after undergoing extensive surgeries on her right leg due to a traumatic car accident 17 years ago. Prior to her amputation, Janet knew Paula Free, the founder of Power On With Limb Loss, because her son was in Janet’s class. Supporting one another, the women have become best friends through their involvement in the nonprofit and are even flying to National Conference together from Oregon.
Janet’s passion for helping others can be traced to her career as a social worker, and as a new amputee, she wants to tailor her skills to benefit the community. “I’m really interested in learning about the Workforce Development Program and what I could do for a career that would motivate other amputees,” Janet said. She also wants to give back as a Certified Peer Visitor and advocate, educating able-bodied people about what is helpful for amputees. As an educator, another big draw for attending is the ability to share tips and what she’s learned since becoming an amputee with others at the conference.
Similar to Janet, 24-year-old Sam Velleca recently became a below-knee amputee in early 2023. Diagnosed with rare cancer in his ankle bone, Sam underwent amputation to remove the tumor and is now cancer free. Feeling well supported by his family and medical team, Sam was encouraged to register for the conference as a next step by the hospital psychologist. “I’m making a good recovery, so I’m interested in talking to people who have been amputees for a while and seeing what their life looks like down the road,” Sam shared. “I’m more curious about the long term and how to live an independent life which is why a conference like this is appealing to me. It’s hard to get those answers from people who haven’t lived through the situation.”
Aside from soaking up the wisdom of other amputees, Sam is also very interested in talking to experts in the field of prosthetics and learning about the latest technology. “I’m curious what innovations and developments in prosthesis are coming in the next five to 10 years because it’s obviously not something that stays the same for the rest of your life,” he said. Sam has recently started playing golf again and, prior to the amputation, led an active lifestyle which he looks to continue. Another common thread Sam touched on is learning to interact with able-bodied people and those who have questions about limb loss. “I would love to hear from people about how they talk to others about being an amputee and general perceptions around people who have an amputation,” he commented.
Although undergoing a second amputation (below the knee) in January 2023, Earl Johnson is adjusting to life as a bilateral amputee and is excited about resuming activities such as driving. “I’ve heard good things about the conference for a couple of years now via my support group, U-CAN Amputee Support Group, affiliated with the University of Michigan,” Earl said. Although unsure of what to expect, he is looking forward to learning more about osseointegration, options for dealing with phantom limb pain, and how to drive with hand controls. Earl first became an above-knee amputee in 2016 when a cut on his left toe led to infection. Like the others, he is also eager to meet and network with attendees to understand their lifestyles and physical, mental, and emotional challenges. “I’m looking forward to being in a community where – at least for a little while – most of the folks will look like me,” Earl shared.
Every story, just like every amputee, is unique, but for everyone, the National Conference is an opportunity to find strength in similarities. First-time attendees this year will also be able to enjoy new experiences tailored just for them including a reception, breakout sessions, and a VIP room with special activities scheduled. Whether you are a recent amputee or have been part of the community for many years, there is never a bad time to immerse yourself in an atmosphere to ELEVATE.
If you haven’t registered for this year’s National Conference yet, there is still time to join us in Orlando, Florida. We are confident there is something new for you to discover!