Group offers help and encouragement to amputees


FOR SOME, the loss of a limb brings so much trauma that everyday living can seem insurmountable.

In 1987, three amputees recognizing the need for support and exchange with others formed the Amputee Association of Maryland, Inc. (AAM), and dedicated themselves to helping those who have already had an amputation and those who are facing one.

Today, AAM has about 800 members. Membership is free and there are regular meetings, parties and events, a newsletter, a calendar of events and other activities.

Volunteer counselors, most of whom are amputees, are trained to ease the natural grieving process, share information about protheses and help people deal with phantom pain, a pins-and-needles sensation amputees often feel.

"Not everyone has it," says Nina V. Roelke, volunteer and secretary and treasurer of AAM. But for those who do, she adds, "it can last forever. However, a prosthesis helps because it puts pressure on the nerve to make it feel like the limb is there again," she explains, adding that hospitals and social workers refer new amputees to AAM and the trained volunteers are paired with new amputees by age, sex and cause of amputation.

Roelke, 43, an amputee, is one of the founders of AAM. In March she was elected president of the Amputee Coalition of America, Inc., the only national association for amputees in the United States. The organization is made up of many amputee support groups, including AAM.

In 1985, Roelke lost her right leg below the knee due to osteomyelitis, "a bone infection that came after exploratory surgery for a pain in my ankle," says Roelke, who lives with her mother, Betty Swift, and her 19-year old son, Frank Roelke, in Westminster.

While there are other amputee support groups in the United States with longer histories, the AAM is the largest independent amputee group and also the only one in Maryland. It is associated with the Kernan Hospital and Union Memorial Amputee Clinic and its offices are located at Kernan Hospital, 2200 North Forest Park Ave.

On Saturday, Oct. 5, AAM is holding its first Health & Fitness Fair from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Kernan Hospital, which is underwriting some of the cost. Former Baltimore Colts stars Johnny Unitas and Ordell Brasse will sign autographs.

The fair will feature free health screenings, including free prosthesis checks, stress and coping seminars, games for children, exhibits of medical equipment and specially equipped vans and cars and information about a number of agencies that can be of service to amputees. Blood screenings will be available for $15.

The AAM staff, members and counselors are all volunteers. The non-profit organization is funded by grants and donations. Anyone interested in volunteering, membership or discussing the upcoming health fair, should call Nina Roelke at 448-2500, Ext. 355.

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