An Interview with John R.

John R. has always been fond of challenges and pushing himself to the limit and beyond. In the Army, he chose some of the toughest training and duty a quiet professional could get. John later served in Gulf I and other operations. Later, as a civilian, he drove trucks on local and long-distance hauls, which sometimes included hazardous materials. He is also an avid motorcyclist, riding a Harley, and says that he has always believed in “living life to the fullest, with no limitations.”
After his military service, he met and married his wife Sumur, and started a family. He loved spending time with his wife and kids. However, one day, while skate-boarding with his kids, his life took a terrible turn for the worse. He crashed hard, and his left knee and leg were very badly broken. To add to his problems, while they were still rebuilding his knee and leg, John contracted MRSA (which he believes may have been due to poor sanitation during a nurses’ strike). He contracted gangrene and eventually was given a hard choice lose the leg or lose his life.

John started researching his options, and eventually found Eastside, where he met Jeff Warila. Jeff talked to both John and his doctor, and persuaded them to try a knee disarticulation amputation (KDA) rather than the more conventional above the knee (AKA) procedure. While the KDA has been around for many years, it is still a relatively rare operation. However, it offers many advantages for the amputee, including less likelihood of bone spurs (caused by an AKA femur trying to re-knit with the lost lower part of the limb), and the mechanical advantage of having a full femur. It can bear weight on the distal end, which is likewise advantageous. Though not suitable for all cases, if a person is not eligible for a below the knee (BKA) operation which saves the knee, the KDA is a good option.

Jeff’s obvious expertise impressed John’s surgeon so much that he asked Jeff to join him in the OR during the surgery. Jeff scrubbed and “suited up” and went in, using a laser pointer to help guide the surgeon during the operation, to ensure that John would have a residual limb that offered him the best quality of life. In a follow-up note, John wrote, “I told my daughter just before the surgery, ‘I will be fine because I am trusting in God but, I have faith in Jeff. Both of them will take care of your Daddy.'” He also said, “Being a combat Marine, you understand that I don’t do ‘helpless’ well, but I knew I was out of the fight as soon as I went under. Jeff was my ‘dust-off’ and I just knew that he would get me back.” (“Dust off” is the military term for a helicopter medical evacuation.)

All went well in the operation itself, but John later developed fatty embolisms from a broken patella, which John thinks may have been caused by too-strenuous activity soon after his recuperation. The first he knew of the problem was a heart attack while he was at home in his living room. Once they got him back in the hospital, he had a further episode, a TIA (transient ischemic attack, an episode in which a person has stroke-like symptoms). The resulting testing revealed the fatty embolisms. However, the heart issues were not his only problem. Within a few months, he found his feet tingling, which progressed to not being able to take a breath, which brought him again to the ER. This time, he ended up paralyzed from an embolism that had attacked his spine. They told him that he would never walk again without surgery, and sent him home in a wheel chair. He was totally demoralized, lost all motivation, and would not get out of bed. He basically stayed in bed for 2 years, lost all his muscle tone, gained a lot of weight, and became diabetic.

John credits his survival to his “tough but devoted Irish wife” Sumur, who after two years of caring for his needs, finally turned to “tough love” to force him to get out and go into rehab. However, he had gained so much weight and lost so much strength that he could not use his limb, or even get out of bed. Sumur arranged for Johns rehabilitation, during which they used a radical ultrasound treatment to break up the calcification that had built up around his embolism. However, during his recovery, John found that the rehab unit had an arrangement with another major prosthetics maker. Unfortunately, John then had a terrible experience with the other prosthetics company.
Although John wanted to go back to Eastside, the rehab unit told him that Eastside would never receive full payment for their services. They did not want to use Eastside, whose costs were greater because of the amount of time and effort they put in. Sumur refused to settle for less than the best and contacted Eastside. Jeff assured her that his own office staff, Janet and Shannon, would take care of all insurance issues. Jeff’s confidence in his people reassured her. Once Sumur called in Eastside, John and Sumur never heard another word about payment from Jeff, though the rehab center often pointed out what wouldn’t be covered.

As John said, “Steve put up with me and my attitude in a hostile environment. He and Jeff made sure the quality of care and product were the best. Eastside as a team relieved our stress and we never had to worry about care once Jeff said it would be taken care of. We actually don’t know what, if anything, Eastside ever received in payment since they have never brought it up. Jeff and Steve’s standards and products were extraordinarily higher than what other patients in the facility had and the speed of my recovery is living proof of that.”

Steve and Jeff got busy and made John an external orthotic appliance and a frame (which John described as looking like an erector set) to get him out of bed and walking. Use of this frame cut his rehab time in half. John had been told that he would be in rehab 2 years and would never ride a motorcycle again. With the help of Steve and Jeff, he could walk in 6 months and could ride again in a year. He dropped 140 pounds of fat, then regained weight, but this time as muscle. Jeff didn’t concern John about compensation; even though John had been told many times that Eastside wouldn’t be paid for all the work and time needed. Jeff and his staff only worried about what John needed.

John told me that Jeff’s standards are higher than the insurance companies will pay for, but Jeff will always find a way to get the job done right. John waxed rhapsodic about Jeff and Steve during the interview. For a tough former Ranger and biker, he was positively poetic at times. Among other things, he told me, “Jeff and Steve have a passion for what they do. They never take shortcuts. They want the prosthesis as perfect as possible.” “Jeff goes above and beyond to ensure that you are walking.” “Jeff took 2 hours to tune up my leg to specially suit my needs in motorcycling!” (John uses the Otto Bock C-leg, a computer operated prosthesis.)

John recently completed a course as a veterinary tech, is working with research animals, and also works with rescued pit bulls. The “bulls” sometimes chew on his prosthetic leg, an advantage he has since others have to feel the bite. When he told Jeff (also a dog lover) about the situation, Jeff provided John with extra plastic covers for the leg at no charge. John said of Jeff and Steve, “I cannot say enough good about them. They were there for me even when I didn’t want them to be! If there are angels on earth, Jeff is one of them. He is always there for me, at any time. I would share a foxhole with him.” “I can call Jeff for anything at any time, and he will solve the problem. Jeff is one of six people I know I could call at 3 in the AM, and he would be there for me and vice versa. I brag about Jeff and Eastside like I brag about my Harley. I show off his product like I do my 1600cc engine. I explain his products performance the same way I give the specs of my custom “springer” forks.” (As any Harley rider knows, this is high praise indeed!)

Despite a recent bout with pneumonia and being faced with a new health issue, John remains active, and intends to go on, in his words above “living life to the fullest, with no limitations.” My bet is that he will!

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