Patient Testimonial

Jane Sawyer

Jane Sawyer wonders if she would be walking today were it not for her seven tropical birds and their words of encouragement.

When she's not feeling well, her brood fusses and Scarlet yells "Come on Mom, step up!"

Jane says her birds make her laugh, give her enjoyment and are the motivating force that got her out of her wheelchair following a below-the-knee amputation. They are the reason that she is strong both mentally and physically. She credits their badgering for helping her to overcome depression and self pity.

At  44 years of age, Jane was diagnosed with lupus. She also suffered from fibromyalgia, vascular disease and high blood pressure. The progressive vascular disease required her to undergo a vascular bypass grafting in her right lower leg. But continuing ischemia (restricted blood flow) left her with only one surgical option; below-the-knee amputation. Facing the reality of an amputation caused Jane to enter into a state of shock and despair.

Jane credits Dr. Robert Haile, New England Rehabilitaion Hospital of Portland (NERHP)’s physiatrist (a physician who specializes in rehabilitation medicine), for pulling her through by being very re-assuring prior to the amputation. He fully explained the amputation procedure with her, as well as the timeline for recuperation, the physical and occupational therapy she would receive at NERHP and the process of prosthetic fitting and adaptation.

On March 3, 2006, Jane's right leg, below the knee, was surgically amputated. She transferred to NERHP on March 10, 2006 to start her rehabilitation (referred to as Phase I). Upon admission to NERHP, her depression mounted. Jane said she felt a very personal loss. In her mind, she was not a whole person. She was tired of being in a hospital, but she knew she had to continue if she were to regain her strength and ability to function.

"I just cried and cried and only wanted to go home." Jane said.

Jane's daughter, Melissa, and husband, Chuck, decorated her room with family pictures and mementos so that her surroundings felt as much like home as possible. She felt a little more secure and knew she was where she needed to be.

In just a short time, her depression began to lift with help from Dr. Howard Kunin, Psy.D., Neurobehaviorial Services, the support of Dr. Haile and her therapy team. Her rehabilitation program included physical and occupational therapies which focused on retraining so that she could once again function independently (without her leg) in the activities of daily living. She received appropriate education and counseling regarding post-amputation management and rehabilitation. Jane said her rehabilitation team became her second family and she made great progress. Jane was discharged from inpatient therapy on March 23, 2006 and went home to allow her amputation wound to fully heal while her prosthetic was created. She would receive Phase Two, prosthesis fitting and training, as an outpatient at New England Rehab Hospital one month later.

Coming home the first day was tough. When she initially left for the hospital, she was walking on two legs but when she returned she came through the front door in a wheelchair with only one leg. Over time, Jane's depression returned. She was embarrassed to be in a wheelchair and therefore, avoided going out. She received nursing services, mental health counseling and wound care all at home.

Throughout the ordeal her birds, Sammy, Whitney, Scarlet, Charlie, Drew, Carey, and Zazoo and Gizmo (her Pekinese dog) were trying to figure out what was going on with Mom. Gizmo stayed in Jane's lap all day, while Scarlet perched on Jane's wheelchair. Being very talkative tropical birds, they sensed that perhaps Jane needed some extra vocal encouragement. Over and over throughout the day, Jane would hear one or more of the brood say, "I'm sooo sorry, Ma!"

The day her husband returned to work, Jane was left alone to take care of the everyday household chores. There in the kitchen, as Jane was feeling entirely overwhelmed, Scarlett looked at her and said "Come on, Mom, step up!" At that moment, Jane realized she had a family to care for and had no time for self pity. Cages needed to be cleaned, food needed to be made, and therapy was ahead. With the positive coaching by her brood and daily visits from Jane's mother and her sister, Nancy, who helped with the household tasks, Jane grew stronger and more independent. She decided she was going to get out of her wheelchair, walk, and strive to have an active and fulfilling life.

In April of 2006 Jane began attending the NERHP amputee clinic, led by Dr. Haile. She found she was surrounded with people who were familiar with the same hurdles and obstacles she was experiencing. She also started prosthetic physical therapy. Jane admits that at first she did not put 100% of her efforts into her therapy. She feared falling; the pressure on her amputated leg was painful - as though she was walking on a stick.

The turning point of success occurred after her therapist told her that she needed to do the therapy for herself, not go through the motions for the sake of the therapist. Her success would be up to her and her only. The goal was attainable, but Jane had to be the one to work at it. Once she fully understood that walking was really up to her, Jane progressed very quickly; first to a four-wheeled walker, then to using two canes.

At the time of this interview, Jane exhibited no visual signs of being an amputee. She is an attractive, 49-year-old, dressed in a fashionable jogging outfit, walking tall and proud. Her therapists passed her in the hallway and remarked about how great Jane looked and how unbelievably strong her stride was.

She says the minute she gets up in the morning, she puts on her prosthetic and it stays on all day. She does the laundry, goes up and down the stairs, drives, mop floors, and prepares daily meals for her beloved birds. She is active and independent and emphatically states, "I have my life back!"

She leaves the house all the time now, doing errands and visiting family and friends. Jane was discharged from NERHP's outpatient services in December 2006.

As mother of her brood, Jane is busier that ever. She made a full Thanksgiving dinner for all eight pets! Jane looks back at her experience with mixed emotions but everyday she is thankful for the progress she has made.

"If it weren't for my birds, Gizmo, my husband, my mom and my sister, I never would have succeeded, " said Jane.

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