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Jackie Riggs

Jackie Riggs’ Story: Strength in Numbers and Elective AmputationStrength in Numbers

My name is Jackie Riggs.  I’m the mother of three amazing son’s and grandmother to five delightful grandchildren. I live alone in a modest home nestled in one of the most beautiful places in the country.  I have a passion for motorcycle riding, and especially enjoy long road trips. I have one of the most loyal dogs one could ever imagine. His name is Wesley.  I have a very sweet kitty named Vincent, and two little firebelly toads named Hip and Hop. I also recently became a below the knee amputee.

I never imagined being an amputee or having to use a wheelchair to get around. I’ve always been a very independent person; I rarely ask anyone for help. I had my own business for about ten years. It was a public transportation company, but our main source of revenue was state funded Medicaid patients that we transported to and from doctor appointments. The patients were all ages, with a variety of illnesses/disabilities. Many of our passengers were in wheelchairs or had other assistive equipment such as walkers, crutches and canes.

While I was still working I started noticing a mild ache in my right ankle. Of course, at the time, I was way too busy to be bothered with having my doctor take a look at it. So, I just kept walking on it despite becoming more and more painful as time went on.

In the middle of 2013 I decided it was time to retire from that business. Shortly after I stopped working I went to see my doctor about this pain in my ankle. By then it had developed into a significant limp in my gait. My doctor had me get an x-ray. The x-ray showed that I was suffering from some sort of ligement problem caused by some “old injury”. She had a name for it, but I don’t remember what it was.

In the beginning of what has become a long and arduous treatment process, I tried some physical therapy, but was advised to see an ankle specialist as the physical therapy was only irritating my ankle problem.

After “interviewing” a few orthopedic specialist, I ended up in the care of a prosthetist. He made a custom brace for me that was supposed to hold my ankle firmly so that I wouldn’t be in pain when I walked. That worked for a little while, but after about an hour or so wearing it I felt like my foot was getting crushed.

I told my doctor that I needed some other form of treatment. She recommended a doctor in the next town. That didn’t go so well, but I happened to run into a nurse that I knew. I was telling her about my ankle problem and wondered if she could recommend an orthopedic specialist. She said she did know of one that was wonderful and that she highly recommends him.

I went to see the orthopedic specialist my friend recommended. He had more x-rays taken and then talked to me about my osteoarthritis condition and what my treatment options were. Since I had exhausted all the non surgical options, he said that he could do ankle fusion surgery. He explained the surgery to me and the care I would need afterwards.  I told him I wanted to go ahead with the surgery.

After the surgery, I went to stay at a rehab hospital for a couple of weeks so that I could learn how to manage living with non weight bearing on my ankle. After I got home I continued seeing my surgeon for followup appointments.

After a couple of months my surgeon said that I didn’t have to use the walker anymore, but that I needed to remain in a walking boot. I was thrilled because what I heard him say was that I could clean out the garage. As soon as I got home that’s exactly what I did.

A short time after working in the garage, I noticed that my ankle was becoming more painful instead of less. I had to see my surgeon and confess to working in the garage when I really knew I shouldn’t have been. I got a couple of x-rays taken and then he explained to me what had happened. Several of the screws had come loose and he would have to redo the surgery.

I explained to him that I needed to go to California to help my sister and brother-in-law. In fact, I ended up making several trips back and forth to help them. By the time I had made the last trip I would need to for awhile, my ankle was so painful that I went to my surgeon and asked him if he could please fix it asap.

My second ankle fusion surgery was scheduled and the procedure turned out to be much more involved, probably because he wanted to make sure it didn’t come apart this time. My ankle had a lot more metal implants this time as well as a large piece of donor bone that my bone was supposed to adhere to.

Approximately six months after the second surgery it had turned out that my bone was rejecting the donor bone and would not adhere to it. By now I was wearing a custom AFO brace, a knee brace and still in a great deal of pain. I told my surgeon I couldn’t go on like that much longer.

Occasionally the word amputation  would come up in conversations with my surgeon and my prosthetist, but I never imagined it might actually happen. When I talked to my surgeon about amputation, he said that it would solve the chronic pain and awkward gait I had been dealing with for so long, but it would be a life changing experience. He said to come back and see him in a month to give myself a chance to think it over.

I did go back to see my surgeon in a month. I told him that I didn’t want to live like I had been any longer and that I felt like amputation was the answer. The surgery was scheduled along with arrangements to go back to the rehab hospital once the amputation was complete.

I have to say that the amputation surgery is by far the strangest surgery I’ve ever had. And it has been quite an emotional rollercoaster. For the most part I have been able to deal with it pretty well but there are times when I wonder if I made a mistake. But I know that once I get through the prostetic process I will not regret having had the amputation surgery. In fact, I have been told that I will wonder why I didn’t have it done sooner.

It’s a little odd, I think, that my amputation was elective as opposed to it being necessary due to an accident or illness that was a life-threatening emergency. I could have kept my leg and just stayed the way I was. Still though, I think I made the right decision. And, without even knowing it beforehand, I’m now a part of a community of people living with limb loss.  And since there is strength in numbers, I can honestly say I feel empowered by this recent life changing experience.