Centenarian’s Limb Loss Doesn’t Slow Him Down

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By Betta Ferrendelli

In 1919, when Edward Benning was nine years old, he was pushing a plow on a farm in Atlanta when he was kicked by a mule.

Though the kick badly injured Benning's left leg, he did not receive immediate medical care. Instead he had to wait for more than a month for a traveling doctor to visit the area.

By the time Benning received medical attention, gangrene had set in. The physician performed Benning's transtibial amputation that day using the kitchen table as the operating surface.

"He was awake the entire time," says Shelilah Benning, Benning's daughter. "Though he suffered quite a bit, the operation saved his life."

Indeed, it did. Benning, who turns 107 August 26, has enjoyed a long, productive life, though he suffers from some hearing loss and asked his daughter to tell his story.

Fitting In

For roughly the first half-dozen years after the amputation, he used crutches to get around school and work on the farm, Shelilah says.

"My father never considered himself disabled. He was just like all the other boys in his school," she says. "He was a very good swimmer, and he especially loved to wrestle."

Benning began using a prosthesis when he was about 16 years old. "He made himself a peg leg with a stick and a strap around his waist," his daughter says.

Benning crafted a makeshift foot that he was able to stuff inside a shoe, she says. "No one was able to see his peg leg, so you never knew he had it. He wore that for years. He could walk just as straight as anyone. Outside the family, no one else really knew he didn't have his leg."

It wasn't until Benning came to Youngstown, Ohio, in the mid-1950s that a friend took him to Shamp Artificial Limb. Norm Shamp, who had undergone bilateral amputations in 1936, started the company in 1957; it is now Shamp Bionics, Akron, Ohio. It was Shamp, who passed away several years ago, who fitted Benning with his first prosthesis, says Mark Shamp, CP, Norm Shamp's grandson.

Shelilah describes her father's first prosthesis as a corset-type prosthetic device that included a socket and a foot. He had to strap the device on, lace it around his thigh and then buckle everything together with a belt around his waist. "It was quite the contraption and certainly not like anything they have today, but it worked well for him for many years," says Shelilah, who estimates that her father has had four prosthetic devices throughout his life, which she has kept.

Benning eventually settled in Massillon, Ohio, where he found work at Republic Steel—a job he landed without anyone knowing he had an amputation. To get the job, Benning had to pass a physical exam, and he wouldn't have been allowed to work if company management knew that he had a prosthesis, his daughter says. "My father wanted to work, and he was able to hide his [prosthesis] during the physical by wearing long pants," Shelilah says. "They asked him if he could drive a crane and he said he could (he couldn't) and got the job."

It wasn't until Benning was already working at the steel mill that one of his coworkers discovered he had a prosthesis, his daughter says. "He was sitting on a curb eating lunch with the other workers one day when one of them noticed he didn't have a leg," she says. "His pant leg has risen up his leg and [the prosthesis] was easy to see. Back in those days you were considered handicapped, but he never looked at himself that way," Shelilah says. Her father said he worried about getting fired from the steel mill, but he kept his job. "My father is a proud man," she says. "He has always taken pride that he can do anything others can do and sometimes a lot more."

Benning's independence was displayed throughout his life. In addition to his work at Republic Steel, Benning drove a truck for a paper company and spent 15 years as the custodian for the Massillon Public Library. He was married for 67 years before being widowed in 2010 and had five children. He lived in his own home until he was 100 and drove until the age of 102. He now lives at Amherst Meadows, a senior care center in Massillon, where he is known as the "Cornhole King."

Comfortable Enough to Dance

Benning uses a cane when he walks, though he can walk without it, his daughter says, and he uses a wheelchair for long distances. He still travels and is planning to celebrate his 107th birthday in New Mexico, where he goes every year to celebrate the occasion with his children and grandchildren.

He has been receiving prosthetic care at the Hanger Clinic in Canton, Ohio, for about 20 years, Shelilah says. Evelyn Rizzo, CPO, the Canton clinic manager, has been Benning's prosthetist for three years.

Rizzo calls herself lucky to be able to work with the centenarian. "He's a vibrant person, and he has the spirit and energy of someone several decades younger," she says.

Tall and rail-thin, Benning wears a carbon laminated socket with a patella tendon bearing strap, sock fit, and a carbon foot. "It's a design he likes because it is simple to use, and he manages his sock ply well," Rizzo says. Benning has tried gel liners, she says, but didn't find them comfortable for his needs. "He likes to stick with what works."

Rizzo says she sees Benning about every three months. When he comes for an appointment, it's usually for an adjustment of his prosthesis due to weight loss, she says. "Once I get the socket feeling good to him again, he always does a dance or two. It used to make me nervous, but now I don't stop working on it until he feels comfortable enough to dance."

Betta Ferrendelli can be contacted at betta@opedge.com.