Educating Others About the Dangers of Diabetes

Tom Sanders has advice for all people with diabetes: “Don’t ignore your symptoms, the signs of illness or your doctor’s orders.”  He speaks from experience.

Eight years ago when Tom was diagnosed with diabetes, he strived to make his health a priority and develop a better lifestyle. He changed his diet and incorporated physical activity to drop 100 pounds from his 6’4” frame. After spending more than 30 years overseas working in the oil and gas industry, he was excited to return to the United States.

While working in Midland, Texas, Tom developed a diabetic ulcer on his right foot. “I let time pass, continued working long hours that involved a lot of standing and didn’t take care of the ulcer,” Tom said.

Diabetic ulcers are a major complication from diabetes caused by nerve and vascular damage from the disease that can lead to complete loss of feeling in the foot.

When his entire foot appeared swollen, Tom drove himself to a local hospital emergency center. The shock and pain of what he heard when he was examined left him speechless. “I’ll never forget the nurses and doctors telling me I have to have my foot amputated,” Tom said. “All I could think of was ‘What have I done?”

Before Tom left the hospital, a nurse presented him with ‘Midland Jack,’ a stuffed toy rabbit that also had an amputated right foot. “She reminded me to be strong and told me Jack would be on this journey with me, even in the moments when I felt alone,” said Tom.

Heading to Houston for Inpatient Rehabilitation

After being discharged, Tom, his wife and Midland Jack traveled to Houston, where Tom was admitted to the Amputee & Limb Loss Program at TIRR Memorial Hermann. Dr. P. Jacob Joseph, clinical chief of neuromuscular rehabilitation, lead Tom’s inpatient rehabilitation care at TIRR Memorial Hermann.

“Mr. Sanders came to TIRR Memorial Hermann already having undergone an amputation. Our team worked with him to address any medical concerns to optimize his progression through rehabilitation,” said Dr. Joseph. The Amputee Program at TIRR Memorial Hermann prepares patients and their families to cope physically and psychologically with the traumatic or surgical loss of a limb, or a congenital limb deficiency. The rehabilitation process includes a pre-prosthetic program and prosthetic training.

“The therapists and employees have instilled in me the power I have within me to heal and get stronger,” said Tom. “I’ve been educated and I’m not going back to the life I had before because this was preventable.”

While in the Amputee Program, Tom spent time regaining strength and endurance through physical activity such as hand cycling and exercises with his therapists. Program participants are also educated on wound and pain management; and proper positioning and prevention of muscle contractures.

When Tom left TIRR Memorial Hermann, he began the second phase of his rehabilitation at the Limb-Loss Clinic at TIRR Memorial Hermann Outpatient Rehabilitation – West University. At the facility, therapists had Tom do additional exercises to strengthen his upper body and core. He will receive his prosthetic and begin rehabilitation and gait and balance training for his body to adjust to his new prosthetic.

Dr. Danielle Melton, director of the Limb-loss and Orthotics and Prosthetics Program at TIRR Memorial Hermann, leads a multi-disciplinary team that works with patients with lower-extremity amputations to improve their outcomes. “In our effort to provide high quality care for our patients, we assess where they are functionally and meet their needs during their rehabilitation and prepare them for success in using their prosthesis,” she said.

“I’m looking forward to getting back on my feet and back to work with my new attitude,” said Tom.

This new chapter of Tom’s life is rooted in encouraging, educating and empowering other people with diabetes to take care of themselves and know they are not alone in their journey. “I want to tell anyone who has been diagnosed with diabetes and has to face the hard realities of having an amputation to not give up, keep pushing.”

Learn more about inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation programs for amputees here.

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Ali Vise