This time last year Ken and I were spending a lot of time with his amazing prosthetist David and his team at Scheck & Siress at UIC. David created built the most mind-blowing prosthetic leg for Ken and after multiple fittings Ken was rocking it like–well, like only Ken could. (Click here for video. Both “high fives” are with David.) Two people who worked on David’s team had leg prosthetics themselves which helped create a secure and supportive environment. Going there for fittings was more like visiting with friends than anything else.
I’d meant to donate the prothetic leg to David earlier, but I hadn’t been ready to face actually doing it yet. Regardless of the good it would do others, it was still a piece of Ken for me–a really important one. Some of the best memories I’d had with Ken in the past year and half–and certainly some of his proudest moments–involved him using that leg. I’d emailed David previously to let him know I wanted to donate the leg, and followed up with him earlier this week to see if he’d be around on Friday for me to drop it of–as well as see if he could use Ken’s wheelchair and some other medical equipment.
Aside from the amazing work David does for Scheck & Siress, he also volunteers his time for an organization called the Range of Motion Project (ROMP) which goes to third world countries or disaster areas to fit people with prosthetic limbs. It was this organization to which I was donating the leg. Ken was riveted as David talked about he and his team going to Haiti after the earthquake, and upon our last visit David was preparing to go to Guatemala. If Ken were still here, I’m positive he’d be accompanying David and team to Central America for their next visit (volunteers are welcome).
I hadn’t seen David since Ken’s and my last visit there in September of last year for another fitting and more practice–though by then Ken had taken the leg home and was using when he could. David had let me know he wasn’t able to attend Ken’s soiree because of his patient load, so I was looking forward to seeing him, yet with most “firsts” since losing Ken there is a bittersweet edge to be dealt with. Some of my happiest memories were in those basement offices, and going there alone to see people who he’d had such an affinity for (and vice versa) was daunting.
I knew he’d be busy with patients, but after I dropped everything off, David made time to come out and speak with me. After we hugged, we talked for a few minutes; about the soiree; about how I was doing; about how he was doing. He looked the same as the last–and every time–I saw him. His face and body language engender trust and kindness. He thanked me for the donations and went on to tell me a few things that I found–and still find–utterly amazing.
He has a new patient via ROMP who he will be donating his time to. This young man (20 years old) from Poland recently had a left hemipelvectomy (same as Ken–which is a very rare surgery), and with no insurance will benefit from the use of Ken’s leg. Those of you who know me (and my last name) know that I’m Polish, but Ken was actually more Polish than I am. Not sure if that means anything, but I, no longer a believer in coincidences, found it interesting. David went on to say this young man is of similar stature to Ken, so adapting the leg for his use should be of little concern. Even more, he generously offered to send me photos of the fittings as they progress so I can see Ken’s leg as it morphs into this young man’s leg. I am thrilled beyond words to share in this experience. Without infringing upon the recipient’s privacy, I’ll do my best to share photos from time to time. So many things feel right. It’s obviously meant to be.
It wasn’t until later that evening where I had to take another step I hadn’t expected. A prosthetic leg was a part of Ken–whichever one it was–since I’d know him. There was always one in the house whether he was using it or not. And now it was gone. So many hopes were pinned on that leg. For a while, it was what made what he’d gone through “okay” in many ways. Just that there was a prosthetic for him after such drastic surgery was astounding–let alone how quickly he adapted to using it. The day’s events made for quite a difficult evening for me. But as a friend pointed out it was another step–another journey–which in the end helps me to continue to process my loss and to grieve.
Aside from my moments of sorrow, knowing how thrilled Ken would be to know his leg was going to someone who could make good, long use of it offers me great comfort. David felt similarly in saying he felt the timing was uncanny, and it was Ken saying “here you go, kid”, and I don’t disagree.
I so look forward to the journey via photos of this young man is embarking upon–with a charmed piece of Ken to help him find his way.