Many people assume the reason for the amputation of one of Sylvia Thoe’s legs was diabetes, but they are wrong.
“Of all the non-traumatic amputations, 82 percent are from artery diseases. Of that, 50 percent are from diabetes, which is why most people assume her amputation is from diabetes,” said Zach Koepke, a physical therapist at Riverside Medical Center.
Thoe’s right leg was amputated above her knee a year and a half ago.
“I had the flesh-eating bacteria, “she said. “It does go fast. Within a week, you could be history. A lot of people do die from it.”
Thoe and her husband Rick were in Arizona in April of 2013 when she suddenly did not feel well.
“It started with a fever,” she said.
That was on a Monday.
By Thursday of that week, “I couldn’t take it anymore,” she said.
First, Thoe went to an urgent care facility and was subsequently sent to a local hospital.
“They helicoptered me to Phoenix. They were able to get it under control. I would’ve died,” she said.
Within days of being admitted into a hospital in Phoenix, Thoe’s husband Rick had to make the decision to save her life by having her right leg amputated above the knee.
“A nurse was the one who told me,” Thoe said.
The flesh-eating bacteria is called necrotizing fascilitis.
Thoe said the disease affects about one in a million people.
The bacterial infection spreads rapidly and destroys the body’s soft tissue.
The most common way a person gets necrotizing fasciitis is when the bacteria enter the body through a break in the skin, like a cut, scrape, burn, insect bite or puncture wound, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We came back from Arizona as soon as we could,” Thoe said. “I came back home in June and started working with Zach (Koepke).”
Prior to working with him, Thoe first did some physical therapy in Arizona.
From June to November of 2013, she had physical therapy at Riverside Medical Center three times a week.
Thoe had already been fitted with her prosthesis when she began going to RMC.
Koepke, who had never seen this diagnosis before, said the “biggest thing starting out was getting her confident.”
Thoe said learning to walk again was terrifying.
“I’m deathly afraid of falling,” she said.
She has fallen around three times.
“We started with a two-wheel walker,” Koepke said.
Next, he transferred her to a hemi-walker, which he described as a walker a person holds in one hand.
That was followed by a quad cane. “We did ramps and stairs with this, including the outside ramp,” Koepke said. “I worked with her on the cane until she went back to Arizona.”
By the time she and Rick left for Arizona, Thoe was able to drive again, after taking and passing both the written and driving tests.
In Arizona, Thoe’s physical therapy continued three times a week.
By the end of last April, the couple was back in Waupaca.
Her goal was being able to dance.
“My son was getting married,” she said.
Thoe did dance at the wedding and continued her physical therapy at RMC, working with Koepke and also PT Assistant Sandy Rice.
“I just think the world of him (Koepke) and Sandy,” Thoe said.
She looks forward to her physical therapy appointments, saying Koepke and Rice are supportive and encouraging.
“They do things I wouldn’t try at home,” Thoe said. “I look forward to whatever else they will show me.”
Koepke said, “You work very hard, which makes it easier to work with you.”
It will be a long recovery, he said.
Koepke said a published study shows “that 65 percent more energy is required at approximately one-half the normal speed of ambulation for above-knee amputees as compared to normal persons.”
That means someone with an above knee amputation walking at normal speed would be using 130 percent more energy than a person without an amputation at the same speed, he said.
The 68-year-old Thoe said her husband got her through everything.
“Rick came with her every time for her therapy,” Koepke said. “He was a good coach, cheerleader.”
Being able to drive again was a milestone for Thoe.
“There’s not much I can’t do,” she said.
She can get out of bed and shower herself but cannot yet go shopping by herself.
Thoe’s ultimate goal is to walk without needing anything.