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Painting a New Life: Jan's Story

Published on Mar. 17, 2021

A 74-year-old amputee patient masters a new walk of life with the help of our expert rehabilitation services. 

rehabilitation with Mary Free Bed


When a 15-year struggle with peripheral (non-diabetic) neuropathy in her feet led to more complications, Jan Parker knew she had to make a difficult decision: move forward with a below-knee amputation or continue to live in agony. 

“I’m a wallpaper-er and painter, so I was on my feet all day,” the 74-year-old explained. “Off and on it would bother me. I knew I had to address this problem.”

Fed up with the pain and sporadic collapse of her foot, which eventually forced her to rely on a Charcot Restraint Orthotic Walker (CROW) and knee scooter, Jan met with a foot surgeon and began preparing for foot reconstruction. Eventually, her surgeon cautioned her, she’d need to consider amputation. In the meantime, reconstruction could offer relief. But before her scheduled surgery, Jan’s developed a bone infection called osteomyelitis.

“I got to the point where I was walking on the side of my foot, and every time I walked without a shoe, I could hear all the bones crunching and rubbing against each other, which didn’t feel really well,” she said.

Unfortunately, the infection also meant foot reconstruction was no longer a possibility for Jan. 

“One of my friends told me, ‘I think things happen for a reason.’ So I started thinking, ‘You know, I don’t want to deal with this for the rest of my life.’ I just decided to make the decision to amputate,” she said.

Following her surgery at Munson Medical Center in early January, Jan was mentally preparing to transfer into a rehabilitation facility in her hometown of Kalkaska when she was approached by the Mary Free Bed at Munson Medical Center team – Munson Healthcare’s expert inpatient rehabilitation unit located right inside the hospital. Their biggest concern, Jan shared, was her at-home plan. “They made a layout of my home. They had a plan. I felt very reassured and confident,” she said. “Plus the convenience of staying in the hospital. It all meshed together fantastically.”


One Day at a Time

Jan spent the next 22 days learning how to re-navigate life on one leg. Working alongside her primary physical therapist Grace Wallace, Jan focused on her standing balance and tolerance. Her team of rehabilitation specialists also taught her how to wield her arm strength on the walker in order to plant her foot firmly on the ground without hopping on it. 

“Using her walker for balance, we worked on foam surfaces and tossed bean bags and beach balls to challenge her support,” Wallace explained. “We also worked on helping her navigate her wheelchair through tighter spaces in addition to general safety. She did really well!”

But Jan had more to master more than maneuvering around. She also had some unexpected pain to work through.

“Your body isn’t meant to stand on one leg. So your pelvis hurts. Your leg crease hurts. Your back hurts,” she said. “But my rehabilitation team was accommodating. They were very conscious all of the time. They don’t want to hurt you, they just want to help you and make you stronger.”


The Big Moment

Soon the day came when Jan was ready to move on from her catheter. She remembers it vividly. 

“I stood up on one leg for the first time and just burst out crying,” she said. “I just thought, ‘How the heck am I going to do this and get on with my life?’ But I did. They taught me how within three weeks.” 

Jan, who describes herself as a practical person, was most impressed by the solid routine Mary Free Bed at Munson Medical Center provided. 

“They have a board in your room, and they put on there where you’re going, who you’re going to be with,” she explained. “It was very consistent, and they were very well trained. Everyone knows each other and they collaborate with each other and keep you motivated. I know I would not have gotten that from another facility. This is a much more accelerated program.”

Jan’s occupational therapist, Lonna Gorenflo, couldn’t agree more. Gorenflo recently joined the Mary Free Bed at Munson Medical Center Team after working as a traveling therapist. 

“It helps to give them a more well-rounded experience with therapy,” she shared. “This is, by far, my favorite placement I've ever had. I feel supported. The interdisciplinary team here – we get along; there's a collaboration that I'm not used to. It's like an actual team. You can rely and depend on everybody.”

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Looking Forward

Now back at home, Jan continues to build on her independence. “I’m doing pretty much everything I want,” she said. Before her surgery, Jan worked part-time at her local library and cleaned it weekly as an independent contractor, in addition to her painting and wallpapering business. She anticipates returning to both positions soon. As for her other business? 

“I’m hoping to paint and wallpaper again,” she said, adding that she’s received a few new requests since her surgery. “So we’ll see.”

Another pleasure she can’t wait to get back to? Seeing her quilting friends, with whom she hand sews quilts – a hobby she cultivated in her early 30s, and perhaps not surprisingly, honed into an award-winning craft.  

In the meantime, Jan looks forward to her next phase: being fitted for her prosthetic leg, the last stretch in her healing journey. While she recognizes the challenges that may arise, she feels confident in her newfound strength. 

“You just get through it and get on with your life. And that's what I am. I’m a pragmatist. If you have a problem, you find a solution and work toward it,” she said.

For Jan, Mary Free Bed at Munson Medical Center was a significant part of that solution, and she’s thankful that their expert rehabilitation services were within easy reach. 

“It’s invaluable. It’s just made all the difference in the world.”

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Click here to see more inspiring rehabilitation stories like Jan’s and to learn more about our special partnership with the nationally recognized Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital!