When you are accustomed to moving about the world in a certain way, and all of a sudden that changes, it can be a big shock. For those on Long Island who have lost limbs, going through such a drastic bodily change can be isolating, lonely, and scary. Thankfully, there are several organizations who aim not only to inform amputees, but help them connect with one another.
Three of Paragon’s Long Island centers offering specialized programs for amputees — Lynbrook Restorative Therapy and Nursing, Momentum at South Bay in East Islip and Excel in Woodbury — held a picnic earlier his month at Bethpage State Park for just this purpose. Affected members of the community were invited to play golf and Jenga, learn more about improving their care, view the latest innovations in prostheses and meet living examples showing how losing a limb doesn’t have to slow them down. “One of our goals with our amputee program is to show that limb loss surgery and amputation is not the end of your life,” said Mike Verbsky, director of the amputee rehab program at Momentum in South Bay, and also the director of diabetic management and education program. “You can absolutely go back to your prior hobbies, your prior work, all of that.”
For Long Island amputees, events like these are sadly few and far between. This event was the first of its kind on Long Island, and it was truly a multi-year effort. “This event is the culmination of building up our three programs, getting them to where they are today, and being able to have everyone come together,” said Verbsky. Many attendees were meeting for the first time in person, after years of remote gatherings.
It is truly an under-served community, Verbsky added, and this creates a toll on individuals who are already going through a difficult life experience. Amputation patients, especially those who undergo surgery later in life, often struggle to adapt. “Talking to people that have had limb loss as a child, congenitally, kids are resilient. Obviously they have to deal with bullying issues, growing up different than their peers, but they’re resilient. A lot of them grow up not knowing any different, and they adapt very quickly,” explained Verbsky. “Whereas an adult who has been [doing things one way] their whole lives, now have to adopt an entire new way of doing things. It’s not a bad way of doing things, but it’s a different way.” That is why creating spaces for amputees to bond and connect is so crucial.
Lisa Penziner, Director of Special Projects, agreed. “There’s really nothing on Long Island. There’s very limited support groups on Long Island,” she said. “We want to get our name out there so that people know there is somewhere out there they can go, and there is someone they can talk to if they feel alone. You just want support from other people… It would be a shame for people in the community to have been sitting in their homes for ten or twenty years alone in a wheelchair.”
Brian Cordts, occupational therapy assistant and director of Lynbrook’s diabetes and amputee programs, has seen firsthand the value of bringing amputees together. “I want them to know that there is a community out there that is just like them, if they want to get support or give support. I like to say that I can sympathize, but not empathize. I’m not an amputee. I can educate, and give someone as much as I can, but I’ve never experienced it, so how can I truly say I know what they’re going through? When two amputees connect, or their families… that feeling of bringing them together, that they know someone out there going through what they’re going through, is everything.”
If you or someone you know is an amputee, get in touch with the support group via Lisa Penziner at (516) 457-5585. For a plethora of information and amputee resources, visit https://www.amputee-coalition.org/
About the facilities sponsoring the event:
Lynbrook Restorative Therapy and Nursing, Momentum at South Bay for Rehabilitation and Nursing in East Islip and Excel for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Woodbury on Long Island utilize a multidisciplinary team of experienced healthcare providers to speed healing, restore confidence and provide those who lost limbs with the skills to return home and live as independently as possible. Each center sponsors a support group once a week open not only to patients but to all members of the lost limb community.