Friday, February 23, 2018

Marathon Man

Geep Schurman, aka Ahab, was born with fibular hemimelia, which is a deformity of the limb’s bone structure and associated muscle and tendons, often defined as congenital absence of the fibula. It is the most common long bone deficiency of the extremities. Geep explained, “I had no fibula, and a deformed right foot with only 3 toes… the entire right leg was shorter than the left. Before my amputation, my orthopedic specialist fitted me with a full-leg brace, which was referred to as an appliance.”

In those days, Geep called his appliance a “contraption” to help with his mobility. The apparatus employed lace-up thigh and calf corsets, a buttocks ring for weight support, knee hinges and steel support rods and a series of leather restraint straps. He wore this apparatus from the time he was 2 years of age until he was 10.

At 10, he had his leg amputated, 7 inches below the knee. Even with the amputation, his first prosthetic limb had metal rods, hinged at the knee, with a thigh corset, a buttocks ring and leather hamstring restraints behind the knee. “The noticeable difference in the new appliance,” Geep said, “was below the knee… since my foot was now gone, the prosthetic technicians fashioned a wooden socket conformed to the shape of the residual limb (stump) with a rubber foot attached to the end.”

Geep’s experience with Powell began in the early 1950s before they were even in business as Powell. “Marvin F. Pollard’s orthotic and prosthetics shop was a block or two east of MCV on Broad Street,” said Geep. “They worked primarily with amputees, but also helped me before my amputation, with adjustments to, and the actual fabrication of my appliances. I remember my dad taking me in that shop many a time for fittings and adjustments. I continued with Pollard until my amputation in 1956… by then Tommy Powell, Sr. had purchased and relocated the business to 414 West Broad Street,” said Geep.

His particular type of prosthesis was a “Patella Tendon Bearing” (PTB), so named because it was designed to bear all his body weight on the strongest part of the residual limb. For a period of roughly 10 years post amputation, Geep had numerous minor surgeries to remove cysts that would form due to pressure changes in the knee area. Every surgery was followed by a recovery period, during which Geep was not able to wear the prosthesis… and each surgery slightly altered the fit of the prosthesis. “I would systematically visit Powell where they would “always” take the time necessary to help me walk comfortably again.”

In 2012, Geep went to Powell with a new request. “I told them I wanted to run,” said Geep. “My wife is a marathon runner… I want to run a marathon too!” He met with Joe Sullivan, one of the Powell partners who is also a BK (below the knee) amputee. Joe was a Paralympic volleyball player, and currently coaches several local teams, so he totally ‘got it’ when Geep said, “I want to run a marathon.”

“Joe takes the time to listen,” continued Geep. “He’s always right there to help me. I told Joe I wanted a leg that I could run on, moreover, that I was interested in distance running.” Geep’s trust in Joe was rewarded. Geep said, “Joe put together a leg for me that allowed me to run the 2014 marathon in Richmond!”

Not only did he finish, but he also did it on a compressed training schedule due to a bout of tongue cancer. “By August 2013, I was ready to run that year’s marathon,” said Geep, “but I was diagnosed with tongue cancer and was in treatment until December that year. After removal of my feeding tube in March of 2014, I was back in training.” He ran the Monument Avenue 10K, the Patrick Henry Half and completed the 2014 Richmond marathon in November.

He didn’t train much from January of 2016 until May of 2017 while his wife, DeeDee, was undergoing treatment for metastatic breast cancer. “I wanted to spend that time with her and didn’t train,” he reflected.

Subsequently, Geep channeled his emotions into training with Team DD KIWI, the novice marathon training team, that was named in his wife’s honor. “When she passed, I joined the novice team, but my prosthesis wasn’t fitting correctly,” said Geep. “Five years of below the knee atrophy had seriously compromised the fit.”

He went to see Joe at Powell to replace his limb. He told Joe, “I want to upgrade from my current ‘Variflex’ to a ‘Cheetah’ foot,” which is the choice of many distance runners. “But - I want it to be an every day leg too…. not just for running.” Powell answered the challenge. Building a prosthesis with a cheetah foot is more labor-intensive, and time consuming, and between each stage of completion, test-runs are necessary. By the middle of October it was ready. Geep remembers, “The process was challenging, but the results were so worth the time and effort. The ‘Cheetah’ is more comfortable than any of my previous legs.”

Geep hadn’t trained since mid-July. “I started the marathon anyway,” he said. “even though I only made it 22 miles. It wasn’t about winning or losing… only to have fun and to honor my wife. I had the support of the entire marathon training team, the encouragement of my running partners and DeeDee’s indomitable spirit… and thankfully, the dedication of Powell. My plan is to get that medal in 2018 and to enjoy the journey.”

With determination like his – we have no doubt he will.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Showing others how to stay physically active after amputation

Connie Moe is a firecracker of a woman from Richmond, Virginia. Though only 4’10” in height, her personality is as big as they come. Being an amputee hasn’t slowed her down one bit, and her story and determination to lead an active lifestyle is inspiring.

I’ve always been athletic. I’m not particularly good at any sport, but love them all,” she said. Connie completed her first 10K in 2002, “One of the things I enjoyed most about doing a 10K was the training – that was as much fun as the 10K itself,” she said.   It was during that race that she began to have issues with her ankle.

“I ran the 2002 10K in Richmond and after the race my ankle looked like it had a goose egg on it,” she said. “I went to several physicians, but could never get the problem fixed.” After a number of attempts to resolve the issue, she started considering her alternatives. “I had heard about ankle replacements,” said Connie, “I thought might be a smart option. After so many surgeries, the idea of a new leg and ankle sounded great to me!”

Connie continued, “I went to a world renown specialist in ankle replacement, who initially did not want to take me on as a patient because of my age.” At this point, it was now 2005, 3 years after her initial issues with her ankle. “But after he talked with me and found out I was a personal trainer, and had taught exercise classes since 1985, he agreed to see me and then accepted me as a patient.” For Connie, exercise is an essential activity, so it was important to her to be able to maintain an active lifestyle.

Unfortunately, Connie’s ankle replacement was fraught with complications. “After the surgery, I contracted MRSA. At first, I didn’t understand that MRSA was why the replacement wasn’t taking the way it should. I had IV medications at home, I had to go to the hospital several times and my husband had to keep driving me back and forth to Baltimore, it was a mess.”

During the course of trying to repair her ankle, Connie had a total of 17 surgeries dealing with the different things to get her back up and running. “I went up for one more surgery and I told my husband, ‘I’m ready just to have this thing gone,’” said Connie. At this point, the physician and Connie agreed – it was time to amputate. Amazingly, Connie was happy. “I was just delighted to get rid of that nasty ankle that wouldn’t do anything,” she said.

“Once the MRSA entered into the bone and there was no way to get rid of it,” Connie continued. “After 2 years of not being able to function in the manner to which I was accustomed, I told the physicians to take the foot and ankle - surely anything is better than this!”

“And it was and still is,” said Connie.

“After the amputation, my husband standing by me, he said ‘you got a foot.’ The physicians had put me into an air cast, wrapped around my leg, with a foot at the bottom – and I walked out of there with that foot on my leg,” said Connie. She continued to use that until she healed enough to receive a prosthetic.

Being raised in Richmond, she was already familiar with Powell. “One of my class mates had cerebral palsy and used Powell for his stabilizers, so when it became apparent I'd need a prosthetic it never occurred to me to go anyone else but Powell.” 

Since Connie got her prosthetic, she’s been as active as ever. “It helped that I was in good physical condition when I lost my leg,” she said. “Even during recovery, I still taught and worked with clients as a personal trainer and continued teaching exercise class.” I’m 82 years old and I maintain my certification as a personal trainer and still teach classes twice a week.”

\Connie is also an active advocate for amputees. In April, she went to Washington, DC with a group of other amputees and advocates to ask legislators to support continuing care for amputees. Supported by the Amputee Coalition of American, the group visited with senators and legislators with their message on why it was important to continue medical care for amputees. “It was a bit of an amazing site,” said Connie. “We were put out on capital hill – all these people with prosthetics put out over that hill in crazy heat, but we were on a mission.” Florida Congressman Brian Mast, an Afghanistan veteran, visited with them during the afternoon. Mast is a double amputee after an IED blast during his final tour took both of his legs in 2010. 

When asked what words of encouragement she might have for those facing the loss of a limb, Connie’s advice first and foremost is to have to have a sense of humor about everything – even about a lost limb. Next, she says, “Get a good prosthetic and USE IT. Whatever the limb loss, use that prosthetic, learn to work it and just use it as much as you can. Don’t favor it – don’t treat it as what it is. Try not to limit yourself.”

Thursday, December 7, 2017

“You can do whatever you set your mind to do.”

Support groups offer guidance, encouragement and camaraderie

At Powell, we understand the emotional and physical changes that come with the trauma of losing a limb. Our goal is to provide you with not only a device but also a network of organizations and care to help you realize your potential.

That’s why we are active in a support group for amputees, their families and loved ones.

Amputee support groups provide a unique place for amputees and their family members and caregivers to connect with others who have overcome similar challenges while interacting with those who understand their daily struggles. Support groups provide emotional support, information, fellowship and so much more.

We talked to Michelle Francis, RN, and Lisa Wright, who are both amputees about the importance of support groups to amputees.

“The amputee support group is the only one in the greater Richmond area, and the only one specifically for amputees,” Michelle says. “There’s a calendar of events, and we usually host a function every month.”

What’s great about this organization is the interaction among attendees,” Michelle continues. “We don’t just have a meeting where you come and sit and just talk -  it’s actually something to do.” The group offers archery, tennis golf – just about any sport that you can imagine. We partner with a cool organization called Sportable.”

“Sportable is almost like YMCA for people with disabilities,” Lisa adds. “We go there and do all sorts of different activities.”

Michelle explains: “In previous years we’ve even had a swimming event – a lot of the amputees had not been swimming since they had their amputation, so thanks to this event, they got to try adaptive equipment for swimming and got back in the pool for the first time in a long time.”

The support group even helps people in bigger ways. “One guy has received a scholarship to college for wheelchair basketball,” Michelle says. “He had the desire to go to school, but not necessarily the means, and the scholarship was a result his involvement in this support group.”

 “We meet once a month,” Lisa adds, “Sometimes it’s at the Powell office, and sometimes it’s out in the community. We try to set it up so that each month it’s something different.” Sometimes the group goes out to dinner or to a social event, like a recent trip to the Beer Brewing Company for a meeting and dinner. Sometimes they will have a guest speaker who talks about new prosthesis technologies.

“We’ve even had speakers on very specific topics only amputees have to deal with, like how you handle winter issues with slick surfaces or sweating in the summer with your appliance,” Lisa says.

Amputees helping amputees

Both Michelle and Lisa are amputees themselves. It’s hard to imagine people with a more positive attitude about life after having a limb amputated.

Michelle has been an amputee for just over three years. “I had osteosarcoma, which is a type of cancer that starts in the bones,” Michelle says. “I had to have my left leg taken off at the hip.”

“I first worked with another large prosthetic group in the area, but they couldn’t get my prosthetic right. Most people with my sort of amputation use a cane or other support to walk. Powell was able to develop the prosthesis that I use today - with no other support.”

“I live on a farm,” she continues. “So I ride a four-wheeler, deal with constantly walking on uneven ground, and I walk everywhere and don’t even think about it.” “Because of Powell I was able to go without an assistive device to walk.”

Lisa has been working at Powell for a few months as a patient care coordinator. She helps with patients when they first come in, set up their appointments, gather information, prepare their charts and handle insurance information.

“Powell built my prosthesis,” she says. “I used to work for a rehab center and a lot of our clients went to Powell. When I was ready for a career change, they had a few things open and I applied and here I am.”

Lisa has been an amputee for 43 years. “At 7 years old, I was hit by a car while I was riding a bicycle and lost my leg,” she recalls. “I always talk to people in this situation and encourage them, and tell them, ‘Don’t sit at home, don’t think that it’s a barrier – I have an amputation all the way up to the hip, and I’m as active as anyone.’”

Michelle agrees, saying, “You can do whatever you set your mind to do. That’s the thing about these support groups, it’s about meeting other people who continue to live their lives and be successful.”

Lisa adds, “I tell people all the time, just to get out an do things, you can attend the support groups and get some great ideas.” Lisa even started her own business as an amputee. She connects amputees all over the world with shoes through her business, Shu Fli Amputee Connection.

Both older amputees and those who’ve recently become amputees benefit from the support groups – and there’s something for everyone. It’s especially important for others to connect with those with the same type of amputation, because they face the same challenges.

“Some would never come to a traditional support group because they don’t want to talk about it,” Michelle says. “Those are the people that get involved in our sport events or social activities – different people respond in different ways.”

“Being an amputee literally makes you have to slow down. I can 100% say I am a much more centered and focused person since my amputation.” For Michelle, she says it’s “hard to tell who benefits the most from the support groups, the older crowd really enjoys the socials, but once we started getting the younger crowd in, they enjoy the social groups too. “

Lisa says the people who’ve had their amputations longer seem to participate more in the support groups. “The newer amputees still have to adjust. Many may not have a peer or another amputee they can talk to, so they’re very much just out there and lost. When they do get involved, they see there’s a lot to offer in these groups.”

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Scotty Poindexter

Losing a limb is a life-changing experience. For Scott Poindexter it also was the start of a career.
Scott is the lead orthotic and prosthetic technician here at Powell. He’s the one fabricating and adjusting replacement and supportive products to meet the needs of our patients.
He became an above-the-knee amputee in 1998 following a car accident while in high school. After his accident, Scott didn’t know where his life would take him.
“I was still in school and had to get up every morning but I didn’t know if I could get a job. Life was turned upside down,” he says.
It took some time after being fitted with a prosthesis but once he mastered it, he said bye-bye to his wheelchair. To gain credits for school, he volunteered at a prosthetics office and eventually began employed laminating sockets and shaping coverings. He liked it so much he dedicate his life to helping others regain their mobility.
Now, with 10 years at Powell, Scott is in a unique position as both a technical expert and as someone who has been there.
“I get to help people move on after what life has thrown at them,” he explains. “As an amputee myself, I tell patients, hey, I’ve been there. I am there. If I can do it, so can you.”
“When I work with new patients I hear a lot, ‘You walk so well,’” he says. “I tell people, ‘you will also.’ I’ve had much experience. You put in the work and time and you’ll get there too. Having a practitioner amputee working with amputees brings a sense of understanding to our patients. I know exactly what you’re talking about and what your concerns might be.”

To learn more about orthotics and prosthetics at Powell, please contact our office at 804-649-9043 or check out our website at

Friday, July 28, 2017

Dealing with Scoliosis – Caroline’s Story

Scoliosis is an abnormality of the spine that includes a curvature to the side. It occurs most often during the growth spurt just before puberty. Many curvatures resolve on their own, but some progress throughout the growth period and more severe cases may require a brace or even surgery to correct the problem.

We talked to Anne Ewald, whose daughter, Caroline, is a Powell patient undergoing treatment for scoliosis.

“Caroline was diagnosed in 2015, when she was going for her 10th annual checkup with the general practitioner,” Anne recalls. “When she did the typical ‘bend over and touch your toes’ test, the doctor noticed a curve and suggested we get her checked. At that time, she had a mild ‘S Curve’ with a 16-degree curve on top and a 14-degree curve on the bottom. The doctor advised us to come back in four months for a recheck.”

By early 2016, “The top curvature had increased to 21 degrees and the bottom to 16,” Anne continued. “At that point, there had been a 5-degree increase within that short time period, so a brace was prescribed. The physician suggested she start wearing a brace because of her young age and the speed of the progression of curvature.”

After a consultation with Powell, Caroline soon started wearing the Scoliosis TLSO (Thoracic-Lumbar-Sacral Orthosis), sometimes referred to as the Boston Brace. It manages the progression of scoliosis by bending the spine at specific locations. This brace is made by taking over 25 anatomical measurements and using x-rays as well as a CAD/CAM system to accurately place “unbending moments” in brace. It is then made of a flexible, yet rigid lightweight plastic.

Caroline was told that she needed to wear the TLSO brace full time, while she was both awake and asleep. “We were stunned by that,” admitted Anne. “We were thinking that at most, she’d just wear it to bed, so that part was a little shocking.”

Luckily, Anne stated that Caroline is a very even-keeled child – and very practical. “In Caroline’s head,” said Anne, “She’s getting a curve in her spine, so she needs to wear the brace – that’s that.” Anne admitted that even though Caroline wasn’t happy about it, she knew it’s what she needed to do. “It took a little getting used to,” Anne said, “probably more on my end than hers.”

Helping her stay active

Caroline is a gymnast – not exactly something you would think could be continued while wearing a rigid brace for scoliosis treatment. Anne was pleasantly surprised to learn that wasn’t the case.

“Caroline is a competitive gymnast, and we were concerned that she would not be able to continue,” said Anne. “We were so thrilled when the doctor encouraged her to continue gymnastics, and gave her permission to remove the brace during practice.” Anne said the physician explained that gymnastics improves core strength and core strength helps to support the back, and they encouraged physical activity throughout treatment.

Caroline took the treatment well. “Initially, she was wearing the brace probably 20 to 22 hours a day. She was very concerned about making sure it was helping and having it on,” Anne said. “She really adjusted to it crazy quickly.” Anne believes that Caroline’s gymnastics training helped her agility and because of that the brace didn’t inhibit her in any kind of physical activities.

The TLSO is frequently a two-piece plastic clamshell design (it may be a single piece that opens in the front or rear) that extends from the pelvis to just below the collarbones. Anne described the brace “like a hard cast that she gets in sideways, and it circles her body and in the back, there are three Velcro straps that you pull to make it tight around her, like a hard-shell corset …

“It took us awhile to get used to the change in clothing, but most people did not notice that she was wearing the brace.”

Anne said the staff a Powell was especially helpful during Caroline’s treatment. “They have definitely made a difference – by helping us become accustomed to having the back brace there, and being so super nice, friendly and helpful.” Anne mentioned Beth Martin, who designed Caroline’s brace, by saying “Any time we had a question, she was like ‘come on in, we’ll have a chat.’ She was great and still is to this day.”

Anne continued: “They were very encouraging to me, and made Caroline feel like she was normal and this was just a small bump in the road.”

Today, Caroline’s spinal top curve has diminished, but the bottom curve is still being treated. She has graduated from the TLSO brace into a Charleston Bending Brace that she wears at night. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed that it does its job and hoping that we’ll go back in six months and the doctor says ‘It’s better.’”

To learn more about scoliosis braces, please contact us at 804-649-9043.