The phrase “Better Call Joe” is a phrase that has been used frequently amongst several SRT offices for the past several years. Joe Gossett, a Muncie native and Kokomo resident, is practically on SRT’s speed dial as he is often one of the first people we call for a variety of reasons. Not only is Joe a seasoned patient model, providing education to countless physical and occupational therapists and students, he is also often called in to provide patient feedback for prosthetic research projects and is also always readily available to provide peer mentoring to fellow amputees. Joe’s positive outlook on life has made a huge impact on both the SRT team and our patients, and he has been “paying it forward” since his amputation.
In August of 2010, Joe was returning to work after lunch at the Chrysler plant in Kokomo, Indiana. He pulled into the parking lot on his motorcycle, however, before Joe could reach the motorcycle parking area, he was t-boned by a vehicle, crushing his right leg. Fast forward 2 years and 14 surgeries later, Joe was faced with the ultimate decision of amputating his leg above the knee.
“The surgeon told me that I would probably have to have my leg amputated”, said Joe. “I did not take the news well at all. I was very emotional. The decision was difficult, but I had already had eight picc lines and pain meds by that point. I didn’t want to imagine what life would be like. My wife and I agreed that the only chance for a long, normal life was to choose amputation”.
The day after the amputation on September 30, 2013, Joe was visited by John Arnold, SRT Prosthetist, who sat down and spoke with him and his wife for over 3 hours. Joe described this conversation as the “lightbulb moment”.
“Our conversation with John that day was just amazing. Neither my wife or I understood what life as an amputee would be like. When I was alone, I would try to imagine what life would be like, but I had no life experiences to draw on to even dream. It was like I was entering a dark room. John Arnold sat there and started turning on the lights. We were able to ask him questions and he answered them. Straight forward and honest. By the end of the day, I could barely wait to get my prosthesis. There was going to be life and a good life if I was willing to work for it”.
At the recommendation of his physical therapist, Eric Breisch, Joe sought out the SRT office in Kokomo.
“One of the biggest draws for me was that SRT was being local. These are my guys”, Joe stated. “Eric told me that these folks are the best. You just won’t find anybody better. He was right on all counts. I had found out that getting a new leg and learning how to use it was going to be process. So having the people close by that were going to teach me how to walk again was critical to me. The team was just fabulous. Always upbeat, supportive, friendly and had the answers to all my questions that were constantly swirling through my head”.
On January 17, 2014, Joe stood and walked for the first time in his new prosthesis.
“It was fabulous”, said Joe. “My new leg was going to be my freedom. The first steps in the parallel bars were exhilarating. I had finally started my new chapter”.
One of Joe’s personal goals was to improve upon his walking skills to the point where no one would be able to tell that he was an amputee if he was wearing long pants. With this determination, Joe worked out every day on his own and took his physical therapy very seriously.
“My first physical therapist with my new leg was Mike Jones at St. Vincent Physical Therapy just a block away from the SRT office in Kokomo. Mike taught me the nuances of walking again and helped to progress rapidly. Then Jordan Poynter became my prosthetist and helped refine my leg per se and provided me with opportunities to be a patient model and work with Dr. Robert Gailey while teaching other physical therapists. Later on when I had made some significant equipment changes, I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Teva Turner at St. Vincent Physical Therapy. What most people don’t realize is, learning to walk as an above-knee amputee with a prosthetic leg is not intuitive. At least for me it wasn’t. Dr. Gailey and Dr. Turner taught me how to use the muscles I have left to make my prosthesis do I what want and need to do”.
Unlike most new amputees, Joe had the benefit of knowing a few fellow amputees in his life prior to his amputation.
“My older sister, Joyce, had become a below-knee amputee several years ago due to diabetes. She was always outgoing and worked with amputee support groups, as well as, served as ‘show & tell’ for her eight grandchildren at their elementary schools. She passed away in December 2004. In addition, when I started working at Chrysler in Kokomo, I met a fellow employee, Bob Jennings who was above-knee left leg. Bob was a fantastic gentleman that never let on that he had a disability. Bob also passed away in March 2012. I know now that his prosthesis fit terribly. It was a product of the 1970’s. The technology was primitive and the support for fit and using it properly did not exist. I am so thankful for the new technology, SRT, my prosthetists, and my physical therapists. Joyce and Bob would both amazed by the technology and the support that is afforded me”.
“Joe has been extremely inspiring through his dedication and commitment to become a successful prosthetic user”, said Jordan Poynter, SRT Director of Clinical Care. “He is thorough and diligent in learning the technology of his prosthesis and the biomechanics of walking in order to constantly improve his gait, efficiency and function. Another example of commitment is his willingness to volunteer his time as a patient model for research to test products and collect data that will improve the prosthetic industry for himself and other patients. His story is reflective of a high-quality lifestyle for an amputee that has been through a lot of trauma.”
Joe is a man of many talents and skills and that has definitely transferred over to his vast professional career. With a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering, Joe has worked in the past in the research and development of high explosives and nuclear warheads. He worked for GM for over 18 years as the General Engineer in hazardous waste manufacturing, and he was worked a total of 27 years at the 85-acre Chrysler plant in Kokomo in a large variety of roles including the current Facilities Engineer with the Transmission Engineering Manufacturing Center (TEMC). Every day, Joe passes the “Memorial Stop Sign” in the parking lot that was erected shortly after his accident.
If Joe wasn’t busy enough, he is also a Board Certified Massage Therapist working independently in Kokomo, Indiana.
“My clients come from that segment of the population that experience acute and chronic pain. To help relieve their pain, I utilize a lot of deep tissue massage techniques in conjunction with facilitated and assisted stretching. Without a proper fit of my socket, it would be impossible to do this work. Thanks to John Arnold and Jordan Poynter, the entire prosthetic leg assembly that I now have allows me to utilize the body positions and exert the mechanical advantage needed to be successful at this line of work. It would just be impossible to function without the proper equipment and proper fit”.
Joe went on to say, “If you are a new amputee, I know that life has taken a sudden turn for you and probably not in the direction that you had planned. Well, I have been there and done that. Here are four quotations that have really helped me through these last six years:
“You have three choices in life:
Give it all you got.”
“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”
“My ability is stronger than my disability.”
“When life doesn’t turn out the way you had planned, you can either get BITTER or get BETTER. It is your choice.”
“Stay positive. That is easier said than done. We all have our down moments. I do. But I also have a wife that will not let me wallow in self-pity. I have daughters that will be brutally honest with me to bring things in focus. You have all kinds of support and resources from your friends at SRT. They will be there for you. BUT, YOU MUST MAKE THE EFFORT. Now, get out there and make the best out of things. Be proud of yourself and your accomplishments”.