Laurel resident Lisa Willis is looking forward to wearing a royal blue and lime green ribbon to brighten the spring landscape during the Limb Loss 5K Community Walk/Roll at Granville Gude Park on Saturday.
Organized by the newly formed Amputee Recreational Support Group of Laurel in recognition of April as Limb Loss Awareness Month, the event is designed to inspire members of the local amputee community to come out and "show their mettle," to educate the Laurel community about limb loss/difference and to raise funds for the national Amputee Coalition.
Mary Beth Gibson, chief marketing and communications officer of the national organization, said, "We are delighted."
Headquartered in Manassas, Va., the national Amputee Coalition is a civilian nonprofit organization that connects patients who've lost limbs, or those who have diseases that put them at risk for amputation, with health services, advocacy and preventative education.
The Amputee Recreational Support Group of Laurel became one of 260 support groups when it registered with the national Amputee Coalition in January. As the group's leader, Willis is working to get the word out as she avidly advocates for amputees at the local level.
"Our goal is to help our Laurel amputees find and access wellness services within our own communities, and to inspire and be inspired to empower all people to live their lives fully," Willis said. "Amputees are part of this community. It's important for our community to know that we are not defined by our amputations."
Willis lost her right leg below the knee to amputation 18 months ago. Passionate about improving the lives of other amputees, Willis spoke at Howard University's School of Physical Therapy last year to talk about the amputee patient's perspective, and has made visits, as a peer visitor trained and certified by the Amputee Coalition, to George Washington Hospital.
Sue Stout, interim president and CEO of the Amputee Coalition, said the coaliton's goal "is to ensure that every U.S. citizen who undergoes an amputation is offered a peer visit."
Stout supervises the Certified Peer Visitor Program and said that peer visitor candidates must have experienced a limb loss and completed the grieving process and their own recoveries.
They are carefully monitored to protect their health and trained to understand the "edges" of their abilities as counselors. Certified peer visitors are not health care providers and cannot give health care advice, but they can connect patients to available resources and share the recovery journey to a thriving and fulfilled life.
When Willis met with two other peer visitors from Maryland at the Amputee Coalition National Conference in Orlando last June, they started the support group in Laurel because it is located midway between Baltimore and Washington.
She said the Laurel support group became an extension of the Amputee Recreational Support Group of Central Ohio, coordinated by Navy veteran Robert Hass, and that Hass has been a "great resource."
Hass, who lost his lower left leg after being severely injured July 3, 2012 while serving in the Indian Ocean, ran a 5K race in April last year.
Reaching out to new amputees at local hospitals and physical therapy facilities as well as building relationships within the Laurel business community have been priority items on the Laurel support group's agenda. The group meets in Old Town at the Double Dipper Ice Cream Parlor and Cafe on Montgomery Street.
Last week Willis visited Laurel Board of Trade administrator Maureen Rogers to discuss participating in the May 10 Laurel Main Street Festival. She has invited local chiropractors, acupuncturists and nutritionists to explore the possibility of partnering with the Amputee Recreational Support Group of Laurel to coordinate wellness services.
According to Willis, Laurel amputees have relied mostly on social media for support in the past. She said she especially wants amputees in the community to never feel alone.
"We always want to be a listening ear," she said.
In 2011, the Amputee Coalition began requesting annual proclamations recognizing April as Limb Loss Awareness Month from state governors across the country; it has received 42 gubernatorial proclamations and a letter from President Barack Obama since.
Amputee Coalition statistics point to diabetes and vascular disease as the cause for 54 percent of amputations, with injury as the second largest cause (45 percent), and cancer causing less than 2 percent of amputations.
The Center for Disease control estimates that 33 percent of Americans will have diabetes by 2050.
According to information from the coalition, nearly half the patients who undergo amputations due to vascular disease may not live more than five years; over half who lose a leg are likely to lose the other within two to three years; and smokers are 25 times more likely to undergo re-amputation than nonsmokers.
Medicaid and Medicare pay for 60 percent of the 185,000 amputations performed annually in the U.S.; in 2009, hospital-associated costs exceeded $8 billion.
For Limb Loss Awareness Month 2014, the coalition asked supporters to organize or participate in awareness walks all over the country, providing startup materials at amputee-coalition.org. The coalition has also suggested amputees wear their prostheses in public and post photos on their Facebook pages on April 26.
"Support groups are an essential part of our organization," said Stout. "They are on the front lines of providing peer support to amputees and their families. We commend the amputee recreational support groups for showing their mettle by participating in walk/rolls."
Planning for the Limb Loss 5k Community Walk/Roll started about two months ago. Sponsors of the April 19 event include Laurel Main Street Pharmacy, Freedom Medical, One Umbrella, Adventist Rehabilitation Center, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Hanger Prosthetic and the MultiService Center of North Laurel.
The graphic shop Peak Performance is providing T-shirts; and Patty Figula from Some Assembly Needed, a support group from Middleburg, Ohio, made the blue and greens ribbons.
Gov. Martin O'Malley first proclaimed April to be Limb Loss Awareness Month in the state in 2011, but Saturday's Limb Loss 5K Community Walk/Roll at Laurel Lakes will be the first Laurel event recognizing limb loss awareness. "We are so excited," Willis said.
If you go
The Limb Loss 5K Community Walk/Roll is Saturday, April 19 at Granville Gude Park, 8300 Mulberry St. On site registration begins at 8 a.m. at the Laurel Lakes boathouse, and the walk/roll begins at 10 a.m.
Registration is free, although a $25 donation is requested.