Rock bottom to rock model: Thriving after an amputation

Physical Therapy and Rehab
Patient Story
Damon and his dog.

"I was at my lowest point in life when I showed up on Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital's doorstep," recalls Damon Thorn, a former restaurant manager and the single parent of a teenage daughter. "It was tears for breakfast every morning."

That was April 2021, just after Damon's right leg was amputated below the knee as the result of an infection and complications from diabetes. Thanks to his hard work and the care he received at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital, Damon's not only back on both feet, he's using his experience as a springboard to inspire others. "Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital really opened my eyes up to how compassion and care can make a difference," he attests.

Adjustment and healing

Damon's recovery at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital included the full continuum of care: a two-week inpatient stay after his initial amputation, outpatient care through the Amputee Clinic while his wound healed, two weeks of inpatient prosthetic training and ongoing follow-up care with the Amputee Clinic. The first phase of recovery for any amputation involves wound healing and learning to navigate the new normal. In addition to physical healing, patients have to make some significant social and psychological adjustments, including processing the grief of their loss.

"Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital really opened my eyes up to how compassion and care can make a difference." – Damon Thorn

"Losing a leg is like losing a family member. To try to figure out a new normal without them is tough," Damon shares. Fortunately, Damon had the support of his mom and brother, plus Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital's interdisciplinary team of doctors, therapists, nurses and other staff. Lance Roberts, DO, medical director for the Amputee Program, oversaw Damon's care and checked on him daily during his inpatient stays. "To be able to see a doctor every day to go over care, it really felt good," Damon recalls.

Damon spent his first two weeks as an inpatient learning things like how to get in and out of the tub, how to transition from his bed to his wheelchair and how to care for his wound. He also met a number of prosthetists and selected the one he wanted to work with. Individual counseling with a psychologist, Dr. Kathleen O'Leary, helped him cope with the physiological aspects of his healing, while the weekly inpatient amputee support group allowed him to learn from the experiences of other amputees in various stages of the healing journey.

But what stood out most for Damon was the compassion and caring of everyone he encountered at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital. He especially appreciated his Oak Unit care team, including registered nurse, Ralyn David, BSN, CRRN — his "ray of sunshine" every morning — and Rachid Afrani, patient care technician — the "big brother" who lovingly helped him understand the things he had to do to get better, even if he didn't want to do them.

"We tried to show Damon that this amputation doesn't have to define you. You can go and live your life," says Tori Snyder, MS, OTR/L.

Before Damon went home, the staff worked with his mom to make sure she knew how to assist him and had all the equipment he needed. While Damon endured the seven tough months it took his body to finish healing, he kept up with the physical therapy routines and the healthy eating habits he learned during his first inpatient stay. Finally, Damon was cleared for prosthetic training. As he looked to the next stage of his recovery, he recalls, "There was no doubt in my mind where I wanted to go back."

Damon was happy to find himself on the Oak Unit again for his second inpatient stay. This time, his therapy focused on learning everything from how to put on and care for his new prosthesis to incorporating it into his daily life.

"Using a prosthesis is a brand-new skill," explains Julie Rockafellow, PT, DPT. "You are literally learning to walk again, using your muscles in your leg and in your trunk in a whole new way. It's definitely challenging." Even though Damon was ready to rush ahead, he appreciates the way his therapists taught him to build up slowly and to be mindful of his body, always with an eye on his long-term health.

"We pushed Damon to really perfect his gait mechanics and body mechanics during functional activities because we knew his potential," adds Snyder. "Our goal was to get Damon as independent as possible and back to his everyday activities."

The amputee clinic

After his discharge from inpatient prosthetic training, Damon continued to receive follow-up care with Dr. Roberts in the Amputee Clinic. During Damon's one-month checkup, the staff were thrilled to see a video of Damon achieving the goal he was working toward when he left inpatient: walking up the Art Museum steps on his 41st birthday — without any device besides his prosthesis.

"Through the Amputee Clinic, we ensure that the patient is continuing to reach their functional and prosthetic goals," explains Jaclyn Grenier, DPT, who served as amputee clinic coordinator during Damon's rehab journey.

The Amputee Clinic is available to all amputee patients, regardless of where they first received care. During a clinic visit, the interdisciplinary team assesses the patient's gait, skin and prosthetic fit, and fine-tunes the prosthetic alignment if needed. Patients are also welcome to follow up with the Amputee Clinic to address questions or concerns, replace a prosthesis or receive guidance on continued therapy when appropriate.

Role model on the rise

"Damon's motivation was amazing. He was a light for everyone around him," Snyder notes.

Today, Damon walks his German shepherd three miles a day in the park he once watched out his apartment window from his wheelchair.

"I went from hiding my leg, which I couldn't, to showing it off, because I wanted to be the inspiration to other people," he beams. Damon is also fulfilling a dream that slowly came together during his rehabilitation journey: launching a career providing haircuts and compassion to people who have difficulty getting out. In October, Damon earned his barbering license with the help of a scholarship from the Office of Vocational Rehab — a resource Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital's recreational therapists connected him with. He's now in the process of establishing his own business, Compassionate Cuts, and has a growing portfolio of clients in the disability community.

"Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital's therapy is definitely life changing," Damon concludes. "It's a place where a new normal can be possible."

Next steps:

Learn more about the Amputee Treatment and Rehab
Learn more about rehabilitation care at Main Line Health
Learn more about outpatient rehabilitative therapy

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