SRT is proud to highlight the many accomplishments of SRT Hero, Tom Triol!
Where do you live?
My wife, Shelley, and I live in Indianapolis, Indiana.
How did your amputation occur?
My story started years ago, in the early 90’s, when I fell off a ladder cleaning the house gutters and shattered my left ankle. Three rebuilds and an eventual ankle fusion lasted for 25 years. In 2019 I started feeling some pain in the ankle so I went back to my Indianapolis-based orthopedic surgeon who fused the ankle and found I needed another fix. So through research and the wise guidance of my surgeon, we pursued a total ankle joint replacement in November of 2019 with an extraordinary surgeon in Glenview, Illinois, who specialized in that particular kind of surgery and engineered the joint replacement. It worked well, but the older cadaver bone used for the 90’s fusion that was under the joint started to collapse and it caused a lot of pain and discomfort. We discussed with our surgeon what to do next and considered another joint replacement surgery. However, it came with great risk and its odds of success were less than we had hoped. An ankle joint replacement came with many restrictions because you have to protect that joint when you walk, move and lift things.
We had consultations with three other very well-respected surgeons, two in Lake Forest, Illinois, and one from Glenview, Illinois, all of whom were aware of my situation. They all agreed I would have a much better quality of life with a prosthetic leg. These surgeons independently guided us to a surgeon at Northwestern University Hospital in Chicago to perform the amputation along with a procedure called TMR that he pioneered twenty years ago.
We informed our ankle surgeon of the new path we were going to take. Obviously, he was saddened that the ankle did not work for me but was 100% behind our decision and also very happy that we chose Dr. Gregory Dumanian, Chief of Plastic Surgery at Northwestern. We met with Dr. Dumanian remotely in late December 2020 and then in-person with him in early January 2021. We had the surgery January 28th, 2021, and didn’t have any reservations about it. I came out of surgery at 8pm that day, was up walking around the floor with a walker at 11am the next morning, and off all pain medications on January 31, the day I was released from the hospital.
Where do you work and what do you do?
I work for the Indiana State Police and have been there for seven fantastic years. I came to the ISP after having spent almost 34 years as a television news and sports photographer. I am the ISP’s photographer/videographer and I document their history, training, accomplishments and community outreach.
Out of all of your accomplishments, which are you most proud of and why?
Honestly, it’s probably never giving up. I had four surgeries in 2019 to try and fix my ankle. Three previous rebuilds over the years. Then I had life-changing amputation surgery in January 2021. But we are so very grateful to have been guided to the medical professionals with amazing skills who put me back together. And I cannot say enough good things about all the people at the Indiana State Police whose support and encouragement never wavered. You need people in your corner when you get fatigued and discouraged. Maybe a huge accomplishment for me is recognizing and cherishing the people at home and at work who are all essential to my healing.
The amputation and prosthetic leg have returned to me my freedom. I am back to work as a photographer. I can do any amount of yard work. My wife and I go for lots of walks, we travel, and I can go to home improvement stores without having to plan my route inside the store like I used to when my ankle hurt. We go to concerts and art events and we can enjoy functions with family and friends (and I can go fishing with my grand-nephews)! Recently we had new floors installed in our house and together we moved furniture from room to room with no problems. I cook again both inside and on the grill. I’m not afraid of taking the stairs, ether. I can again help clean the house (I do the vacuuming and dusting). My wife and I kayak together and when I get a new bicycle we are going to get back to riding again. Also, my job responsibilities take me all over the state. I carry and move photography equipment, as many as six cameras, tripods, and lights from the 3rd floor of my office to locations around the government complex and when loading up the vehicle I use to travel to photography shoots to different towns and cities for on-location work.
What hobbies or activities are you involved in? Why do you enjoy them?
My hobbies include making ice cream (for which we have won ribbons from the Indiana State Fair), and making beer and wine, although I admit I have much better success at beer. I love to participate in competitive fishing events. Twelve years ago, we also became caretakers of a Purple Martin colony. This includes caring for, during some seasons, thirty to forty pairs of birds. We look forward to doing more regular traveling, again, too. I enjoy them all because I can do them all, without pain and without restrictions.
How big of a role does the proper function and fit of your prosthesis play in making it a good or bad day?
The fitting of the socket is the most important part of the prosthetic for me. I am very active throughout the day and I have to be comfortable. I am still changing as the day goes on so I carry socks with me to compensate for the fluctuation. I’ve gotten pretty fast in changing up for comfort as my residual limb changes sizes. You really have to pay attention to how the leg and socket are working together in order to make the combination work well every day. One sore or blister can sideline you for a couple of days. Take care of your skin and it will take care of you!
What has your experience been like with SRT?
During discussions when we were planning the amputation it was always stressed that it is important to have a good relationship with the prosthetist you choose. It will become a close relationship so reach out and talk with different ones. I interviewed twice with a patient liaison at SRT and my wife and I took a tour of the facilities at SRT before the amputation. We felt well informed and were impressed by their compassion and their expertise so we knew we wanted to be in their care. We knew we were entering a whole new world as an amputee. SRT answered all of our questions and made us feel confident about the future. We met with several different folks at SRT who also encouraged us to seek out physical therapy after the amputation and before I would have my prosthetic. I started PT as soon as I came home from the hospital. I worked for 11 weeks with two terrific therapists who specialize in amputee PT before I received my prosthetic in April 2021.
What would you like to say to a new amputee to encourage them?
It’s important to consider that this is your new beginning. It’s like a second chance to live your life on your own terms. It is essential to look forward and not back. The early months following surgery can seem difficult and slow. Make sure you go to physical therapy as you build your balance and strengthen muscles. Then you need to get used to wearing a prosthetic and the dynamic changes your body undergoes where it fits. It is an always changing thing. Give it time and the daily changes smooth out and YOU DO GET BETTER AT DAILY TASKS! Something is gone, true, but something more is gained. For me, I have no more pain. No pain, all gain. I can walk again, work again, and live again. Your routine changes, certainly, but the few extra minutes it takes me in the morning to get ready to start my day is an easy trade over the pain and discomfort I endured. Also, when my ankle was repaired all those years ago, I lost more than half-an-inch in height on that leg so I had to wear a special shoe that had a lift built into it. Now both legs are the same length and I know this sounds goofy but I can wear shoes as soon as I get them – I don’t have to send them away and wait for them to be refitted.
My wife and I never thought I would be in the position of losing a leg. We thought that long-ago ankle fusion would last forever. It’s a scary thing to have to learn about the prosthetic world for the first time but if you take the initiative to seek out help, there is a great deal of support and knowledge from very good people. SRT really helped my confidence by having a patient liaison who is an amputee himself, “walk” me through the process. When my wife met Mark, she could not tell he had a prosthetic. Renee, the health specialist at SRT, also supplied some information on a generic leg I could wear in the shower and at the beach so I won’t have to worry about getting sand in my everyday foot. Everyone at SRT brings their A-game to the job (thank you, Josh!) and they always do their best to get me where I want to be, and beyond. I am very blessed to be married to a very loving and supportive wife and she’s always encouraged me to get moving again. It takes effort and dedication and self-motivation, too, but it’s important to let other people help you in this journey.