Just a Man & His Bikes
If you have ever been handed an Amputee Walking School flyer, then I’m sure you recognize the jovial face below. However, you may not know his story, or why the SRT family constantly uses him as a shining example of determination to lose weight and regain a healthy lifestyle.
Carl Didier, who lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana with his wife, Melanie, has had a passion for motorcycles since he was 9 years old. For the past 30 years, Carl has bought, rode, refurbished, re-done, re-sold (and once wrecked, as he put it) nearly 75 bikes. When you step foot into Carl’s garage, you enter a biker’s paradise that would make even the toughest rider shed a tear in appreciation. Carl’s devotion to the diesel has never been altered, even after a horrible motorcycle crash that ultimately cost him his right leg, but eventually gained him some perspective.
On an unseasonably warm day in December of 2006, Carl was cruising down the road on his Green Hornet, a 1993 Ultra Classic. Now, before you get an image in your head of Carl speeding down the highway with his dreadlocks and skull and crossbones bandana blowing in the wind, while his tattooed knuckles rev the throttle, allow me to paint you a more accurate picture. Carl was only going 35 mph, and was dressed from head to toe in a Santa costume, having just attended a Christmas party where he was awarded the role of Santa.
A car had turned in front of him, and Carl had to make a split second decision. He could either swerve to miss her, or hit another car coming at him from the other direction. Carl turned his bike, and hit the car sideways in between the front and back car doors, which shattered his ankle before he skidded across the street and came to a stop. Miraculously, Carl was able to walk over to the curb, and to his amazement, he didn’t have a scratch on him, until he lifted his pant leg to see what damage had been done to his ankle. Carl went into a state of shock, and doesn’t remember much after the ambulance ride. The next thing he knew, he looked down at the external fixator around his right ankle.
Prior to his wreck, having been, at his heaviest, 470 lbs, Carl knew he had to take back control of his life
and signed up for a program run by Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne.
“The program was very successful for me”, said Carl. “With the proper guidance and determination, I was able to lose over 150 pounds by the time I had my accident”.
However, the surgery for his ankle was less than successful and his body had rejected the metal from the fixator, causing a bone infection.
Carl was sent home and for months was unable to be as active as he once was. The weight slowly gained back, and before he knew it, Carl was back up to 450 lbs. Determined to get back on his feet, and more importantly to him, get back on a bike, Carl explored the options for an elective amputation. His physician, who wanted to make sure that Carl was making the right choice, sent him to see Sam Santa-Rita, a prosthetist at SRT.
“The first question Sam asked me was, “Do you know any other amputees?”, stated Didier. “My reply was, “Yes, I actually have 5 friends who are amputees, and some of them are still riding their motorcycles. That’s where I want to be”.
Confident in his decision, Carl elected to amputate his right leg below the knee.
“I healed very quickly”, Carl said. “I was up and walking very shortly after the amputation, and I received my prosthesis only a few weeks later and I was off to physical therapy, where I warned my therapist that she was dealing with a very stubborn person. Within the first week of therapy, I got rid of my walker and was walking on my own. I knew what my goal was. I needed to get back on that motorcycle”.
“Being a heavier guy, I put my prosthesis through a lot”, admitted Carl. “Working in my shop can be very vigorous, and it seemed like I was going to SRT a lot when
the prosthesis couldn’t support my weight. I finally had my “ah-ha” moment when Shawn Brown (SRT Prosthetist), had fit me for a new prosthesis, and along with it, he asked me to sign a waiver because there really wasn’t a prosthesis available to handle my weight. At first, I was mad, but eventually I gained the perspective I needed, and I knew I had to do
Soon after, Carl would attend his first Amputee Walking School at the Turnstone Center for the Disabled in Fort Wayne, Indiana where he met two big influences in his life, Dennis Oehler and Todd Schaffhauser, former amputee sprinters and directors of the program.
“Dennis looked me right in the eye and told me it was going to take some time and that I needed to strengthen my residual limb”, Carl recalled. “Dennis also told me that if the structure of my knee is sound, and that my ligaments and tendons are intact, then as a below the knee amputee, I’m a lot better off than someone who blew out their knee downhill skiing”.
It was also at that Walking School where Carl learned about Turnstone’s Health & Wellness Program. According to Michelle Kimple, Health and Wellness Manager at Turnstone, “The program is comprised of a fully accessible fitness room and a warm water therapy pool. Referrals are made by a therapist, a physician, or even self-referrals. Once Turnstone is contacted, a welcome packet will be mailed to the inquiring person. The packet includes a welcome letter, application form, brochures about the program, information sheet with fees, and a Physician’s Release (if requested). The Turnstone staff then evaluates the individual, asking questions, checking function level, strength, and range of motion. Whether they are using the pool or fitness room, the staff will assess safety, explain the equipment (proper use, posture, etc), and provide a program based on the client’s personal goals”. *More information can be found at www.turnstone.org
Carl now works out at Tunstone three times a week in their water aerobics class or in their fitness room. “I love Turnstone just as much as I love SRT”, said Carl with his signature and contagious grin. “SRT and Turnstone have helped me tremendously, and I can’t say enough about them. The guys at SRT have worked on my prosthesis during the holidays, and once Sam even traveled out to fix my prosthesis on New Years Eve so that my evening wasn’t ruined”.
Likewise, there isn’t enough the staff at SRT can say about Carl Didier. His positive attitude and endless resiliency are an encouragement to everyone, and we have been proud to watch Carl grow from an attendee at our Walking Schools, to being an excellent mentor for new amputees. Carl’s hard work has not gone un-rewarded, as Carl is now down to 320 lbs, with a goal of 250 lbs.
“A lot of amputees feel like their life is over”, Carl says. “Don’t give up; there is hope for you. Getting healthy gave me a life again and opened up a whole new world. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be doing anything besides sitting in front of the TV”.
“It’s important to get your health back in order to live again. Anything can happen. Don’t give up on your dreams”. ~ Carl Didier