Jessica Crumpton West: Attitude is Everything

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By Betta Ferrendelli

For Jessica Crumpton West, a 31-year-old wife and mother of three young sons, attitude is everything.

On December 30, 2011, in Montgomery, Alabama, Crumpton West had put a large pot of collards on the stove to boil. Her uncle was living with Crumpton West, her husband, sons, and paternal grandmother. "He had been in and out of trouble," says Crumpton West of her uncle. "He was staying with us trying to get back on his feet."

Crumpton West. Photographs courtesy of Mickey Welch of the Montgomery Advertiser.

From left: Crumpton and his assistant Joey Oliver help Crumpton West get adjusted to a trial pair of prostheses. That visit to AALOS was the first time Crumpton West was able to stand since her accident.

That day, after learning that her grandfather had given her a truck, her uncle flew into a drunken rage and threw the boiling water on Crumpton West, she says. She turned to her right to try to protect herself, sustaining third-degree burns over her right arm, chest, and legs, and second-degree burns on the left side of her face and left arm. The boiling water also landed on her middle son and her grandmother, slightly burning them.

Crumpton West says she didn't think her injuries were that bad initially-though skin from her right shoulder was hanging down near her wrist. Her husband, Justin, drove her to Jackson Hospital, Montgomery. From there she was taken by ambulance to the University of Alabama Hospital at Birmingham. "That's really the last thing I remember," says Crumpton West.

Crumpton West's first major surgery-of more than 200-was January 4, 2012, at Arnold Luterman Regional Burn Center, a teaching hospital in Birmingham. Complications during that surgery caused her heart to stop beating while she was on the operating room table. While recovering in intensive care, her heart stopped again.

"They say I died three times," Crumpton West says. "The doctors urged Justin to pull the plug, but he refused to give up on me."

When Crumpton West woke up on Valentine's Day 2012, the first thing she asked for was a Diet Pepsi. She says she was grateful to be alive, even when she learned the extent of the physical damage she had sustained. Because her burns were so severe and the drugs that were used to treat her had cut off the circulation to her extremities, physicians were forced to perform a right transradial and bilateral transfemoral amputations to save her life. "God hasn't left my side," says Crumpton West, who was right-handed and has been learning to write and cook with her left hand.

Angels Everywhere

When Crumpton West was finally able to come home, she realized her road to recovery was only beginning. Her recovery began as an unsteady, steep climb with seemingly nowhere to go and no one to aid her and her family in her struggle. "We were broke and didn't have any insurance," Crumpton West says. "We didn't have a clue where to go for help. We just stayed home for a while."

About six months after her initial surgery, Crumpton West met Glenn Crumpton, CPO/L, CPed, with Alabama Artificial Limb & Orthopedic Service (AALOS), Montgomery. Crumpton is a third-generation prosthetist/orthotist whose grandfather founded Orthopedic Service Company in 1954, which later merged with Alabama Artificial Limb Company to become what is now AALOS.

From left: Crumpton West, Justin, and Crumpton look on while a 16-year-old AALOS patient, who lost her leg in a four-wheeling accident, tries a new piece to cover her knee so she could try out for cheerleading.

"She had gone through numerous surgeries and was barely able to begin prosthetic management and had many surgeries to come," recalls Crumpton, who says the two discovered after their initial meeting that they had a distant family tie. "My role was to support her through my company and the multiple levels that exist at my facility and in the rehabilitation community. We began with a very basic lower-limb prosthesis and held off on the upper-limb prosthesis because she had many surgeries left to prepare her transradial residual limb."

Initially, Crumpton West had Medicaid coverage, which allows for prostheses that are K2 level and below in component availability, Crumpton says. Just one month after AALOS fitted Crumpton West with her initial prostheses, however, she lost her coverage.

"We found out that we made $38 too much," she says.

Crumpton West's sons, Reed and Dylan, watch their mother take some of her first steps with her new prostheses.

That, however, did not hinder AALOS; the company continued to work with Crumpton West for two years without charging her. During that time, her health and functional level began to improve gradually. "She continued to increase her activities outside the home and in the community," Crumpton says.

Crumpton West's story also caught the attention of the local media and another healthcare provider willing to offer assistance despite her financial difficulties. Lane Blondheim, PT, has owned and operated Active Health and Rehab, Montgomery, for the last 11 years. He was watching the local news when he saw a report on Crumpton West. "We saw a news story on her that she needed assistance but didn't have the money. It was a tragedy," he says.

Blondheim's office called the number provided in the news story and told the nurse, "If she can get here, we can help her."

Despite the financial difficulties (she has $1.3 million in medical bills and her husband can't work full time because he takes care of her and their children) and ongoing transportation issues with getting Crumpton West to her care appointments, she still managed to get to Active Health and Rehab. "Lane has helped me for free," she says.

Blondheim met Crumpton West for the first time about a year after she had been injured. She had already had most of her major surgeries and was wearing her first set of temporary prostheses, Blondheim remembers. She was in the rudimentary stages of learning how to use them, he says.

Active's role came in helping Crumpton West from a musculoskeletal standpoint to regain some of the strength she had lost due to her injuries. They spent several months working to strengthen her core muscles and joints, Blondheim says. When Crumpton West first started seeing Blondheim, she had trouble standing and balancing on her lower-limb prostheses and had yet to be fitted with a prosthesis on her right arm, which still needed more surgeries. "Her left arm and shoulder had stayed healthy because she had continued to use them," he says.

Since those initial visits with Blondheim and that first set of prostheses, Crumpton West has been fitted with bilateral transfemoral endoskeletal prostheses. She uses total contact suction suspension sockets with Össur Total Knees because they are easy to use and lightweight, and multiaxial dynamic response feet, Crumpton says. Yet due to bone spurs that develop frequently, it is often too painful for Crumpton West to use her prostheses-she is scheduled to undergo yet another surgery this spring to remove a spur that has woven its way in and out of her right leg. At this time, most of her mobility is via a wheelchair.

An Unexpected Surprise

Last fall, Crumpton West was able to start receiving Medicare, which opened more options to continue to improve her care. That's what made being fitted with an upper-limb prosthesis, a Touch Bionics i-limb, possible, Crumpton says.

"They surprised me with the arm," says Crumpton West, who wears her new myoelectric arm for a half-hour, twice per day, as she says that the arm is heavy and she is adjusting to it slowly.

The limited wear schedule is also due to newly healed, sensitive skin grafts, which resulted from surgeries necessary to prepare her residual limb for a prosthesis, and to learning to activate the myoelectric sensors to control the prosthesis, Crumpton adds. "She is very capable of operating the prosthesis, [which] can be complex," he says.

Crumpton West makes the most of wearing her prosthetic arm. "I can stir a pot on the stove," she says. And she's been able to do more to help her boys get ready for school. "Now I can zip up their [school] bags," she says. Her youngest son, five-year-old Reed, is learning how to tie his shoes. Crumpton West says she wants to be the one to help him learn.

The West family: Jessica, Dylan, Kye, Reed, and Justin.

Positive Attitude

Without the help and support of AALOS, Active Health and Rehab, the local community, and Crumpton West's family, especially her husband, she wouldn't be as far along in her recovery, she says.

Blondheim says Justin has helped to make things easier for his wife. "He has built things around the house to help her get around. He lifts her in and out of the vehicle and her wheelchair." But others say that Crumpton West, with her positive attitude, deserves much of the credit. "There's a reason I'm still here," she says. Even if it's just to help her sons, that suits her fine, she says.

Crumpton sees that firsthand in his client. His mother was part of AALOS in the 1960s when the facility practitioners provided for the prosthetic needs of the generation of amputees that included Vietnam veterans, he says. "Many of them have the same positive attitude that Jessie has that is required to survive and thrive and overcome many life-changing tragedies," Crumpton says. "Her confidence through this trying time has been through the roof. She is truly a remarkable person. She has had an infectiously positive attitude that has been severely challenged many times on personal and physical levels. She has risen above the problems so many times it's hard to believe, and most people would have already given up."

Betta Ferrendelli is a freelance writer based in Denver.