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Robert (Bob) Bliss

Fifty years as an Amputee

All my life I have been teaching. As an assistant day camp counselor, a summer camp counselor, and from running a swim school to teaching math. That is one of the many reasons I became a “Certified Peer Visitor”. To help others in this club.

I am a 77 year old teacher who also is an above the right knee amputee. On March 1st, four days after my 28th birthday in 1969 I was hit by an automobile while riding on my motorcycle. After 17 days of operations trying to “save” my leg it was amputated four inches above the knee. About a week later I was discharged from the hospital. I was given a pair of crutches and sent home. At that time there was no Physical Training (PT) and no gait training. I had to learn to walk on my own.

I returned to work in my fifth year as a sixth grade teacher, no prosthesis, just a pair of crutches. By about May of that school year I got my first prosthetic leg. It had a belt to go around my wast with a hinge at the hip, a heavy plaster socket covered with fiberglass, a mechanical knee using a pneumatic piston and a stiff SACH foot.

I needed to walk and my sixth grade students made me. They loved to use my crutches when I had yard supervision, but when the bell rang to return to class many times they would just drop the crutches and leave me hanging–hanging on to the baseball backstop or the basketball pole—anything to stay upright. So I taught myself to walk. Not a steady, strong, good-posture walk, but one that would get me from A to B.

The next year most of the fifth and sixth grade teachers from that school moved to a new one where I taught arithmetic and Algebra to seventh and eight graders for the next 33 years. I used the flat surface of the school’s interior to practice walking, I got better but not good.

In the early seventies three important things happened. The first being, I met other amputees. The second I learned to ski. And the third and the best, I became a father. I was in the delivery room when my first child was born. For some reason I was without my limb and on crutches when my she came. I was standing on one leg when the Doctor hands me Aelyn, my daughter and the Docter said “look, the stork”.

The other amputees I met were all Vietnam Vets and they taught me to ski. These great guys were the founding fathers of Disabled Sports USA. Skiing became a gateway for me to feel whole again. I got very good at it and loved the speed and even enjoyed the falls. It did help with learning how to fall. My favorite story is a time when a group of fellow teachers and their families took a ski trip out of state. The kids were all in lessons and one time as they were on the hill in a line and I came fast down the hill pass them. One of the children said “look at that guy” and my daughter said “that’s my dad!”

In 1994 because of all the pressure and strain from skiing, poor walking habits and just life I had my left hip replaced. That was the end to skiing. That was about the time I learned of the Amputee Coalition of America (ACA). I learned of their conferences and have only missed two since ’95. In the early 90s at a conference in California I learned to walk properly. Dr. Bob Gailey ran a class on “how to walk”. He picked on me the whole time. I am so thankful for his gait training. Walking correctly uses so much less energy than what I did before. I only took about 30 years to get there.

This being my fiftieth year as an amputee I have seen many improvements in prosthetics. I have had at least five different knees, from the pneumatic to todays microprocessors. Before the microprocessor I would fall backwards hard at least three to five times or more a month. With the microprocessor knee I have not fallen once in the last fifteen years.