Join us as we celebrate the many accomplishments of Bernadette Kramer of Burlington, Wisconsin!

My folks and sister emigrated from Belgium a few months before I was born. Their home town was Namur, Belgium. I am the first American in my family tree. French was my first language, and I am still fluent since most of my relatives still live in Belgium.

How did your amputation occur?
When I was 18, I fractured my right foot. The following year, I badly hurt my left knee. Both injuries occurred playing basketball in an era where most girls were not involved in sports, and sports medicine for women was in its infancy. As a result of the knee injury, I favored my left leg which created problems for the other leg, especially the knee and the foot. Many years of stress on my right foot resulted in my arch collapsing. After 2 failed surgeries requiring long recoveries, I was left with the choice to continue having surgeries that were not likely to succeed, or the choice to have an elective amputation. I chose the latter 7 years ago.

Where do you work and what do you do?
I worked in the computer field and retired as an IT Manager.

Out of your accomplishments, which are you most proud of, and why?
I have faced many challenges in my life, but I have never given up and never lost my sense of humor and positive outlook on things. But in terms of tangible accomplishments, I guess I would say that I am proudest of having co-written the songs for an album of children’s music, and my role in starting up and running an amputee support group along with Dr. Kristin Kronn, PhD, a medical professional who works with the disabled and many amputees. Our group is called On This Leg and we serve the eastern WI-IL state line area. Our website at www.OnThisLeg.org contains a lot of info about our group, including when and where we meet, and provides resources as well.

What hobbies or activities are you involved with and why do you enjoy them?
I have wanted to do volunteer work since I retired, but care-giving for various family members and friends, and then health issues of my own, have temporarily waylaid those plans. In between things, I served on several community committees, and became a published songwriter. For hobbies, I most enjoy photography, singing and playing my guitar, exploring the area where I live, flower gardening, and puttering around the yard and house. I am never bored, that’s for sure!

How big of a role does the proper function and fit of your prosthesis play in making it a good or bad day?
Because of my leg issues, I have had quite a few surgeries that have prevented me from wearing my prosthesis, or required remaking my sockets. I lost count after 40 sockets! But once I have a socket that fits, I am ready to get back into my activities.

Climbing down stairs — I challenged myself while still recovering from surgery on my left knee to climb the Escarpment Trail in the Porcupine Mountains of the Michigan upper peninsula. Here I am on the way back down from the observation deck.

What has your experience been like with SRT?
Several times I have referred people to SRT because of my experience with them. Erin Ruxton is my primary prosthetist, and an excellent one at that. I usually see her at the McHenry, Illinois office. I have presented many challenges to her through the years, but she has met them. Several other people, though, have had a hand in creating or fitting my prostheses, including prosthetists Kelly Reid-Krueger and Toby Wehler, and lab technician, Lauren Justin. These people work as a team to make sure that their patients’ needs are met in the best way possible. I have a lot of respect for all of them.

What would you like to say to your fellow amputees?
In our support group, we talk about living a “new normal.” We cannot go back to the way things were before our amputation, and for some of us, we would not want to. Either way, amputation is now a part of us and contributes to how we live our lives. But amputation does not define us, and it should not limit us from trying to face and overcome our challenges.

Too many amputees feel as if an active life is no longer possible. They avoid socializing or leaving their homes. They refuse to wear their prostheses. They are angry about the situation they find themselves in. They are afraid of falling, or of failing. They see too many things as burdens rather than a challenges.

The truth is, it’s all a choice. Maybe becoming an amputee was not a choice, but how we move forward with our lives is up to us. Sure, there will be difficulties, and many things will need to be done differently than before our amputation. But that doesn’t mean that we have to stop living. We need to face the reality of our current situation – our “new normal” – and get the help we need to create the changes that will allow us to live our lives as fully as possible.

Help comes in many forms, including simply asking someone to help, attending support group meetings or seeking out fellow amputees, talking to our prosthetist or medical professional, and so on. I believe that once the momentum has begun, not only will our lives as amputees improve, we will find acceptance of our amputation. We will meet new people, find new opportunities to try things, and learn that our lives need not be limited by the loss of a limb.

My amputation was planned, so I had some time to do some research, developed a relationship with a prosthetist, and did plenty of reading. It is not so much what I wish someone had told me prior to surgery, but what I hadn’t expected. What was unexpected before my amputation was how many different ways my life would change. I don’t mean how living with amputation was going to make a difference, because I was pretty aware of that. As a result of my amputation, though, I made new friends, started a support group, became a peer visitor, was interviewed on TV, spoke to a conference of physical therapists, communicated over the phone with new amputees, created practical solutions to help with daily activities, and so on. Life has a new “normal” for sure, but it’s not a bad one.

Sitting on the scooter in front of a Corsair airplane — My friend (and support group co-leader) Kristin and I have gone to Oshkosh several times. She flies WWII planes in the show. There’s a lot of walking there, so that’s why I’m on the scooter.

So many articles such as this one are about younger amputees and how they have adapted and are thriving despite their amputation. Many of those amputees are, in fact, trying things they
never dreamed they might do. Their success depended upon their willingness to reach out to existing resources such support groups and publications (many of which are free) and talking to their prosthetist or other amputees. Older amputees, though, more often have other health issues that complicate their recovery and their lives. These people are, I think, a bit forgotten when it comes to news and magazine stories. For them, those articles are irrelevant when activities of daily life are already a significant challenge.

My point, though, is that these older or more limited amputees still have new things they can learn or try, just on a different scale or in a different way. Rather than skiing, perhaps bowling, golfing or target shooting might be possible. Wall climbing might be out, but building sets for a local community theater or volunteering with a favorite charity might be perfect. The thing is for them to find something of interest and give it a try. If one activity doesn’t work out, they need to be willing to try something else. That’s the key…willingness to keep trying. They should not allow themselves to become isolated, and most especially, should not limit themselves. It’s not about what they can do, or even how well they do it. At the end of the day, it will be about having done something, with someone, and enjoyed doing it.