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PEOPLE AND PLACES: A new lease on life

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Bardstown resident recounts amputation, recovery process

By Trey Crumbie

Losing a limb can have a devastating impact on a person’s life, drastically changing it, but one Bardstown man said the experience has given him a new appreciation of life.

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Shawn Gaither, who has been a Type 2 diabetic for about 20 years, lost his right leg after a surgery in February.

Gaither initially sustained an infection in his pinky toe, which later spread to the rest of his foot. After consulting with doctors, Gaither decided it was best to amputate his foot.

Thoughts about his own future populated Gaither’s mind.

“At the time I was probably really upset just thinking about what’s life going to be like after getting your foot cut off,” he said.

Gaither said a doctor informed him that if the foot had not been amputated, he could have died.

“For me, I decided that it was like my second chance at life,” he said, adding that he’s focused on being positive following his surgery.

“I appreciate things a whole lot more now,” he said. “Not saying I didn’t appreciate it before, but it gives you a different perspective on life. It truly does.”

Gaither said one thing he worried about was how he was going to drive following his amputation, but he quickly adjusted after getting his prosthetic.

Gaither also had another surgery to prepare him for the prosthetic.

“The stop and go was probably the hardest part at first because there’s no sensation in the foot,” he said. “You have to use knee pressure to realize how fast you’re going. How slow you’re going. The right amount of pressure to hit the brakes to stop.”

Prior to the surgery, Gaither was plagued with sickness, such as a persistent cough and vomiting. After his leg was amputated, Gaither said his sicknesses were cured.

Following his surgery, Gaither spent time at Frazier Rehab in Louisville and the Kentucky Orthopedic Rehabilitation Team (KORT) Physical Therapy in Bardstown.

After his amputation, Gaither used a wheelchair and a walker to get around. “Crutches didn’t seem to work,” he said. “I couldn’t get a good balance with the crutches.”

One of Gaither’s inspirations is a book called “No Turning Back” by Bryan Anderson, an Iraq War veteran and a triple amputee. Gaither met Anderson at Frazier Rehab and he signed a copy of his book for him.

Gaither said since the amputation, he has given full effort on everything.

“We kind of joke, me and my wife, there’s no doing things half-assed right now,” he said.

When it comes to maintenance for his prosthetic, Gaither has to keep his leg clean and dry or risks getting infections that could lead to another amputation.

“That’s the last thing we want to do, because when you’re a below the knee amputee, your range of motion, your ability to get around is so much easier than having an above the knee (amputation),” he said.

Gaither said he has gotten attention from children regarding his amputated leg, but has received some attention from adults as well. Gaither recalled a moment during therapy where a woman asked him about how long he was an amputee. After Gaither answered, the woman told him that his situation would be better once his leg grew back. Gaither informed the woman his leg would not grow back and his prosthetic was his new leg.

“This is my leg,” he said. “This is who I am for the rest of my life.”

Gaither also said he has received some nicknames from his adult friends such as “Cyborg,” “Bionic Man,” and “Peg.”

Gaither said since becoming physically handicapped, he has been more considerate toward those with handicaps.

“This has really taught me a lot,” he said.

For the future, Gaither said of goal of his is to participate in the Pokey Pig 5K Run/Walk, occurring during the Ham Days event in Marion County.

Gaither said when he looks back on photos of him in the hospital following his amputation. He believes that better care of himself could have delayed his amputation.

“For me, it’s all about taking care of myself now,” he said.