Georgia Foltz, a Former Nurse Continues an Active Life

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By Judy Johnson Berna

Foltz with her grandsons, Austin and Alex Potter. Photograph courtesy of Jeremy Potter.

Although she is now retired, in her early years of nursing, Georgia Foltz worked in a busy emergency room. She witnessed injuries that caused amputations but never got to see those patients during their months of recovery. Her job was to stabilize them so they could move on to surgeons, physical therapists, and prosthetists. Years later, she was the one facing amputation surgery, with no idea what to expect on the other side.

In March 2003, while working as a nurse care manager for an insurance company, a sharp pain in her left ankle led Foltz to seek medical attention. When the diagnosis was a blood clot, which was cutting off circulation to her left foot, Foltz knew the situation was serious. Surgery to improve her circulation failed. Soon gangrene developed on the sole of her foot. Her surgeons offered her the option of several surgeries that had a slight chance of saving her leg. They also offered the option of amputation. Foltz's experience as a nurse helped her see the big picture.

"I realized that the chances of removing dead tissue and having new tissue grow back were very slim," Foltz says. "Since I'm not a patient person, I knew my only hope of not being bedridden for months was to have the amputation and go from there."

Foltz's daughter, Jennifer, dove into Internet research, sharing her findings with her mother. Along with Foltz's son-in-law, Jeremy, and her husband, Robert, they weighed all the options carefully.

Foltz's husband was a bit hesitant at first. His concern centered on the fact that amputation is permanent. "He questioned why I had to have an amputation, as medical technology was allowing hand re-attachments. I remember him telling me that if I did this, it was forever, and to make sure this was what I really wanted."

Foltz was confident about her choice and says that eventually her husband came to see how it could improve her life. He began telling friends that he was proud of her and the drastic decision she was making. Soon he was playing nurse to the nurse as he helped her recover at home after her transtibial amputation.

After she was discharged from the hospital, Foltz, who lives in Ducannon, Pennsylvania, spent four weeks in outpatient physical therapy. She says it was not easy, but her hard work paid off. Having an aggressive physical therapist paid off too. "I called my physical therapist the 'therapist from hell' because he didn't cut me any slack and emphasized balance, walking on uneven terrain, and even taught me to climb a stepladder," Foltz says.

Another key player in Foltz's recovery was her prosthetist, Jerry Max, CP, CTP. When her physician sent her to the Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, Hanger Clinic patient care facility, Max was the first person she met-and the prosthetist she continues to see. "He was very patient to make sure that I got exactly what I needed, and I trust him unconditionally with my prosthetic needs," she says.

Foltz spent her first year and a half in a pin system and eventually found more comfort with a suction sleeve. She says, "The pin system gave me pressure right where the pin was attached to the socket liner, which I don't have with the sleeve system." Even though it adds a bit of extra bulk behind her knee, which affects how far she can bend the knee, she says she has been happy with the suction-sleeve system. "I can and do go up and down the stairs without difficulty," she adds.

Although she started out in a basic carbon-fiber foot, five years ago Foltz decided that a more active foot would fit her lifestyle better and approached Max about other options. They eventually decided on a College Park foot, which Foltz has been very pleased with. "I asked him for something that was easier to bend and...this foot gives me a better rolling foot motion when I walk, with less effort. I got exactly what I need and I would never change it."

Foltz says that attending support groups became an important part of her recovery. Just three months after her surgery she attended her first support group and "was hooked immediately to see so many people like me." A year later, she attended her first Amputee Coalition National Conference. She says she was encouraged to see other people who have the same issues as she does who live regular lives and participate in regular activities despite having an amputation. Foltz now regularly attends the Amputee Support Team of Central Pennsylvania. The meetings are held in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, and serve the needs of individuals with amputations in the counties of Dauphin, Perry, Cumberland, and part of York. The group encourages its members to enhance their physical and emotional health through educational and recreational programs, peer counseling, and public relations.

Foltz says she looks forward to her support group meetings, even ten years after her limb loss, because she has formed friendships and her husband has met other spouses who he can talk to about her independence versus his fear that she will fall. "We both have learned a lot from the speakers, as well as other amputees," she says.

Foltz says that, just as she had hoped, with the help of her support system around her she has regained her active lifestyle. Now that she has retired, she volunteers as a certified peer counselor with the Amputee Coalition, enjoys shopping for antiques with her husband, and spends a lot of time with her two grandsons, Austin and Alex. In the summertime, she swims with them and is not afraid to join them on the roller coaster at the local amusement park. Having a prosthesis rarely holds her back from any activity she wants to try. In fact, her current list of life goals doesn't involve activities, since she is not limited, but locations she would like to explore.

"The only goals I have are places I want to travel [to], and the only thing holding me back is finding the time to go," Foltz says. "I have had no problems traveling, and I can pretty much do what I want."

Foltz and her husband have traveled the East Coast and spent many summers enjoying the Jersey shore. Her future travel plans include trips to San Antonio, Texas, Alaska, and the Pacific Northwest.

Her grandsons help her to keep things in perspective. They were both born in the years after her amputation, so the fact that their grandmother has a prosthesis doesn't seem to concern them. Foltz says, "I can remember both boys picking up my leg as toddlers and handing it to me as if I had dropped my leg and needed to put it back on."

Her desire to travel spills over to trips she would like to take with her grandsons. "We'd like to take the whole family to Wyoming and Disney World when the boys are a little older," she says.

Judy Johnson Berna is an elective amputee who enjoys keeping up with her husband and four children in their home state of Colorado. Her first book, Just One Foot: How Amputation Cured My Disability, was released in September 2012. She can be reached via her website, www.justonefoot.com