Dave Plakas is a 55 year old bilateral below the knee amputee. He’s a Navy veteran living in Middletown, Maryland, near his two wonderfully supportive children, Brandon and Kristen.
It all started with an infection in my left foot many years ago. I’ve had diabetes for over 30 years, which makes me susceptible to these types of complications. My doctors told me that my leg would only last for about 6 months. Amazingly, they were able to save the leg for three years.
It was almost four years ago, after the infection in my left leg got better, that I had a heart attack and needed to have open heart surgery. To recover from the surgery, I was training on the treadmill, and the pounding started to affect my right foot. I remember going into the locker room, taking my shoe off, and seeing my foot swollen like a balloon. I went to the emergency room and got a cast put on, and then I developed a skin infection that left me septic. I got so sick that I almost didn’t make it. The doctors had to amputate my right leg from the knee down.
Three and a half years later, in February of 2012, I finally lost my left leg. I woke up one day and my leg was starting to swell. The swelling would not go down and I couldn’t feel a pulse, so I went in to see the doctor. Doctors never like to break bad news, so I just said, “Doc, am I going to lose my leg or what?” He said yes, and we set up the surgery for the next day.
After I lost my right leg, I spent a few weeks recovering at Shady Grove Rehabilitation Center. The rehab team sent me home, and I learned how to hop around on my good leg. After a week at home, I needed to go back to Shady Grove to be fit for my first prosthetic leg. There are two companies that my doctor could have placed me with, and one of those two was MCOP. He chose MCOP, and I immediately began working with Mike. He was very nice and made me feel really comfortable. He explained the fitting process to me, and as we went through it, he was more than willing to make adjustments and help me find the perfect fit. My daughter came with me to MCOP when the prosthetic was ready, and when I put it on for the first time, it was a really emotional moment. I stood up for the first time in two months. I looked in the mirror and said, “You know, this isn’t so bad!” And my daughter agreed. She thought it looked cool. Mike spent four hours making adjustments so that I could walk straight. I looked at him and said, “You are a life saver. You gave me my life back.”
Working with MCOP
After I lost my left leg a year and a half ago, rehabbing for that was a bit easier because I had gone through it before. All the little things became a lot tougher after becoming bilateral though. Everything from sitting in a chair, to standing up, to walking up a curb became a much bigger challenge. MCOP has really helped me get through it all; the team has been very hands on. When they fit me for my prosthetic, they ask me what design I wanted and what I wanted the socket to look like and feel like. The more I can tell them, the cooler it looks and the better it works. It’s like getting a new pair of shoes.
I’m now in the process of getting new sockets, which is something you need to do every year and half. As I reflect, I realize that MCOP has grown a lot since I’ve been going there over the last 4-5 years. Though they have gotten big, they are still very personal and intimate with me. That’s why people from all over come to work with MCOP.
I know all the guys at MCOP, including the guy who builds my socket. I can send them a message any time during the day and they are willing to take me in to make an adjustment. If I send them a picture via text they’ll immediately tell me to come in so that they can fix it. They give advice and get very involved. It’s really hard to find the words to describe how great it has been to work with the MCOP team. There could never be enough repayment for what these guys have done for me. They say I’m doing all the hard work, but I couldn’t do any of it without their support. I’m very grateful for what they’ve done for me.
Challenges and Achievements
Everything is a challenge. Every time I’m about to do something, I have to prepare myself, even if it is something I do every day, like walking up the steps. Every day I set little goals for myself. I say, okay, I will try something different to get me up quicker this time. Trying not to fall is another challenge, and it’s something that everyone emphasizes, from the doctors to the prosthetists. With these challenges have come some great achievements. I never thought I’d go swimming, but I’ve done it twice! Another big moment was getting back on the golf course and learning to swing the club. Showing my leg in public for the first time was also a huge deal for me. I was always wearing long pants because I was self-conscious, but I’ve conquered that fear and I’m a lot more confident. I’m at a point now where it has become natural to call my lower limb prosthetics my legs.
Move Forward Goals
I do have a few specific goals at the moment. In September, my son is getting married, and I have to dance at the reception. I’m nervous about it, but I have a friend who is a good dancer and is willing to teach me. Another goal I have is to begin dating again. I’m afraid about how I will be perceived and if I’ll be accepted. I realize that the fear comes from the unknown. I felt the same thing before I went swimming for the first time. When other amputees tell me about a certain fear that they have, I tell them they just need to go for it. I’ve been working as a peer mentor for the amputee coalition as a way to give back for all the help and guidance I’ve received over the years. Giving other people advice is helpful because it makes me see that I need to live by the advice I give. Overall, I would say that everything is a goal, and I just try not to let anything slow me down.