Hospitalized at Quillen Rehabilitation Hospital, Wayne Buckner wasn’t the least bit interested in attending an amputee support group, even though he had just lost part of his left leg to a farming accident.
“I didn’t want to go. It’s just an emotional thing. Sooner or later, you’ve got to face the public. I didn’t want to see people,” Buckner said.
With the encouragement of his wife and daughter however, he went, and he hasn’t regretted a moment of it.
“It’s the best thing that happened to me, going that night. As soon as I went in — I was in a wheelchair — there was a gentleman ... who met me at the door. He was a double amputee. He greeted me, smiling. There were some other people there. You get around people like that and you think, ‘Maybe this isn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.’”
Buckner, of Newport, Tenn., had his accident in November 2007. He still drives to Johnson City every other month to attend Quillen Rehab’s Shake-a-Leg Amputee Support Group. The group, a local chapter of The Amputee Coalition of America, meets at 6 p.m., the second Tuesday of every other month, in Quillen’s cafeteria.
It’s a diverse group of people, said Jerry Lee Lantz, who moderates the chapter.
“There are some who had cancer, accidents — farm, motorcycle, industrial. We get all faces. We get them from young ones who are very, very active to older ones who spend more time in a wheelchair, then all of those in the middle. Most are on disability,” Lantz said.
Lantz, who works both at Quillen and at Mountain States Health Alliance’s outpatient rehabilitation, took over the group a couple of years ago. He said that Buckner’s initial attitude toward attending the group is typical of new amputees.
“A lot of people pull into themselves to try to sort through things. That’s a quick road to depression and things that aren’t too terribly healthy,” he said. “Research shows if they can talk to people with common experiences, who’ve been down a road they’ve never experienced, it has many, many benefits. It takes an extra step to reach out and connect with others, and there are many who choose not to take that step.”
Often times, Lantz will arrange for a guest speaker. Other times, they plan social events or just use the time together to explore certain topics.
“That’s kind of shaped by the dynamics of the group, which is ever-changing. It’s what the group seems to need or want at that time,” he said. “It’s a very welcoming, supportive group. There’s no judgments that go on. I like that about the group. They’re very open to whatever a person has to share or is going through. The support group is for and by those that have the common experience. I just try to facilitate and get out of the way and let them create the dynamics. Despite having worked in the field for 20 years, I’ve never been in those shoes.”
Lantz said there’s a core group who attend the meetings, but that the past two years have been rough.
“We’ve had a lot of folks passing on, not only from the challenges of limb loss but other medical complications. You like it when they stick around. The longer they’re there, the more than can give back, the more they can offer,” he said. “Some come get what they need and go on their way. Those who stick around and have the ability to then change the roles from being mentored to being a mentor, that’s a really neat thing to see.”
Buckner has become one of those mentors, visiting new amputees in the hospital when requested. He’s learned to ride a bike, and does some hiking.
“When you have something like that happen, you have to learn how to do everything — get up from a chair, get out of a car, how to go to the bathroom,” he said.
The support group not only is beneficial to amputees, Buckner said, but also to caregivers.
“My wife, nobody knows what she goes through. They need some support, too,” he said. “If you’ve had an amputation or a family member has had an amputation, it’s an excellent source of information. You find out when you attend that you’re not the only one in that situation. There’s other people dealing with the same situation as you.”
At the group’s next meeting on Oct. 8, Zach Smith, owner of Victory Orthotics & Prosthetics, will discuss the new changes in Medicare reimbursements for prosthetic equipment and what a person with limb loss needs to do proactively to ensure getting the equipment they need when the time comes.
For more information about the Shake-a-Leg Amputee Support Group, call Lantz at 232-1106 or email to LantzJL@msha.com.