Connecticut hospital’s mobility clinic empowers amputees

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WALLINGFORD, Conn. (AP) — The first time Pastor Tom Bish got on a treadmill after losing his left leg from the knee down to cancer, he kept increasing his speed until he was in a full sprint.

“I was just so excited because I never thought I would ever do that again,” Bish said.

A year later, Bish is training for the Gaylord Gauntlet, a 5K obstacle course race in June. Bish was one of several locals who stopped by Gaylord Hospital last week to take advantage of the amputee mobility clinic.

The free program was open to the public and aims to empower amputees by having them work one-on-one with physical therapists and prosthetic experts to improve their walking and running.

While the hospital has held other amputee workshops, this is the first time this particular program has been offered, according to Lexi Sammartino, Gaylord’s specialist for patients with amputations.

Grasping the basics of walking with a prosthetic after an amputation can be a big challenge.

“They have to deal with being able to relearn how to walk again with part of a limb missing, so being able to gain a sense of where your foot is on the ground so that when you’re walking or stepping on a curb or over something you don’t fall,” Sammartino said. “That’s every amputees biggest fear; falling.”

Bish, 58, of Meriden, is the pastor of Heritage Baptist Church. He lost his foot to a fibroma tumor in 2007, later having his leg amputated from the knee down.

He was inspired to start running after attending a special workshop at Gaylord with triple amputee Cameron Clapp.

“He’s one of my heroes,” Bish said. “When I woke up from my first amputation, someone handed me a news article and it was his story. His story let me know that life was not over yet.”

Bish worked with Sammartino and Hangar Clinic Prosthetic Orthotist Lindi Campbell to fine-tune his runner’s form. After a brief consultation, Gaylord staff filmed Bish running across the room and on a treadmill. They reviewed the footage and discussed his symmetry and technique.

“Just the boning alignment, the tibia was sort of forward a little bit,” said Campbell, whose clinic is located in North Haven.

“Oh yeah, I can really see it,” Bish responded.

Sammartino noticed Bish was spending more time on his right leg than his left, encouraging him to be on his prosthetic more during his stride. Campbell made an adjustment to Bish’s prosthetic, and immediately he noticed a change after a short jog across the room.

“It felt different,” Bish said. “Not bad.”

“I think it looks much better,” Sammartino said.

Meriden resident Mildred Pugh, 91, also attended the free mobility clinic last week. She lost a leg in 2001 after being hit by a car at a crosswalk near the Meriden Senior Center. She said the fact that the program was free and open to all was “wonderful.”

“A primary care doctor doesn’t go into this kind of therapy and it’s very necessary and I’m learning a lot from it,” Pugh said.

Bish said he hopes the clinic will help him be better prepared for the Gaylord obstacle course race next month.

“This was educational,” Bish said. “I got a lot of things to put into practice and all these little things add up.”

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