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Dodge City Daily Globe - Dodge City, KS
  • Prosthetic leg gives new lease on life

  • In March of 2012, doctors gave Carla Terrian a few hours to make a decision that would permanently change her life.

    “I either had to amputate my leg or I was going to die,” she said.
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  • In March of 2012, doctors gave Carla Terrian a few hours to make a decision that would permanently change her life.
    “I either had to amputate my leg or I was going to die,” she said.
     
    Terrian, now a fifth-grade teacher at Linn Elementary, had cut the bottom of her left foot in a swimming pool in 1995. Due to nerve damage from a childhood surgery, she had no feeling in her foot and the cut went unnoticed.
     
    Seventeen years later, Terrian’s left foot and ankle were ravaged by a bone infection called osteomyelitis, which is most often caused by the bacteria staphylococcus. And she didn’t even know she had it.
     
    The first signs
    A podiatrist in Terrian’s home state of North Dakota first discovered the infection and told her it had been in her toes for nearly ten years.
    After more than a dozen surgeries, Terrian had a fused anklebone and two amputated toes. She also had pieces of bone removed from her foot and ankle in an effort to rid her body of the aggressive bacteria.
    “I was in a walking boot from 2008 until March of 2011,” she said.
     
    In late March 2011, Terrian developed the chills and noticed a black spot on one of her toes. Doctors had told her the screws used to fuse her ankle were breaking down and causing an infection, but otherwise dismissed her complaints.
    “I went to the doctor on a Friday and he told me to go to the wound center I had being going to in Garden City, but I couldn’t even sit in
    the car for an hour because my foot would swell so much,” she said. “I decided that if I didn’t feel better by Sunday, I would go to the ER.”
     
    When she discovered a red streak running up her leg Sunday evening, Terrian and her husband returned to the ER. To rid her body of the infection her left leg was amputated below the knee the following Thursday March 25.
     
    The healing begins
    Dr. Alok Shah, an orthopedic surgeon at Dodge City Medical Center, performed the four-hour surgery, which Terrian sees as the best decision she has ever made.
    “It was the first time I had been infection free in four years,” she said.
    Previous to the surgery, Terrain had been receiving high-powered antibiotics to prevent the osteomyelitis from entering her blood stream.
     
    Less than a day after her leg was amputated, she was using a walker to get around, but Terrian had another goal in mind.
    Page 2 of 3 - “I didn’t want to be 38 years old and in a wheelchair,” she said. “I bought a plane ticket to fly to Minnesota and told the therapists I wanted to be able to walk onto the plane with my prosthetic leg.”
    But the timeline for recovery was a struggle for the goal-oriented teacher- her incision had to be 100 percent healed before she could begin the journey toward a prosthetic leg. She finished the 2011 school year teaching her fifth grade class at Comanche Middle School in a wheel chair.
     
    On May 23, her fourteenth wedding anniversary, Terrian got her first prosthetic “starter leg,” which weighed nearly six pounds.
    “They make the first leg is heavy so that you build up muscle,” she said. “But luckily, I had been compensating for my bad leg for a long time, and I had the strength I needed to recover faster.”
    Terrian has since progressed into her second “starter leg,” which weighs just less than four pounds. The prosthetic is pink, thanks to her practitioner Michael Rolle who wrapped it in pink casting material at her request.
    Rolle is the president of Dodge City’s Life In Motion Orthotic & Prosthetic Center and Terrian has developed a special bond with him. She credits him with her successful recovery and transition.
    “He’s amazing and I want people in Dodge City to know we have this kind of resource so close,” she said.
    Terrian said her final prosthetic will look like a normal limb.
    The best part of her journey, Terrian said, is being able to do things with her 12-year-old daughter Marissa. The mother-daughter duo has started taking walks together and has higher hopes for the future.
    “I want to be able to ride a bike by next summer and I really want to swim again,” Terrian said.
    Marissa said her mom is a lot happier since having her leg amputated.
    She knows every detail of her mom’s journey, a lot to take on and understand for a sixth grader.
    “We do more together because we don’t go to places and have to say ‘Mom can’t do that,’” she smiled.
    In addition to giving her more time with her daughter, Terrian’s transition into being an amputee has helped her realize a new mission for her life.
    “Igot this second chance for a reason and I want to prove I was deserving of a second chance,” she said.
    In fact, she incorporates the philosophy of second chances into her life as an educator. Terrian started this school year at Linn Elementary with her prosthetic and chose to explain her ordeal to her students.
    Page 3 of 3 - “I told them not to be afraid and of course some of the responses when they saw my stump were ‘eww’ and ‘cool,’” she laughed. “I really wanted them to know that they should never let anyone tell them they can’t do something.”
     
    Terrian will receive her final prosthetic leg in a few months. She will celebrate the six-month anniversary of her surgery Sept. 29.
    “I know I have to stay positive because otherwise I won’t heal or get any better,” she said.
    But sadly, staying positive may prove a challenge for Terrian. Her husband Michael was just diagnosed with esophageal cancer.
    “We will get through this,” she said. “I know I need to take care of myself so that I can be there for him.”
    Terrian hopes her testament to second chances will also hold true for Michael and plans to get the words ‘I believe in second chances’ tattooed onto her final prosthesis.
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