After an elective amputation, Jon Jones is meeting his goals with help from CarePartners.
CarePartners physical therapist Laura Dylus first met Jon Jones in January 2018 when he came in for a physical therapy evaluation. “I asked him, ‘How can I help you today?’ and he said, ‘I want to cut my leg off,’” recalled Dylus.
A 20-Year-Old Injury
In 1996, Jones, an Asheville artist, was involved in a car accident that broke his neck. “Three of my cervical vertebrae were fractured and bone fragments pierced parts of my spinal cord, resulting in what’s called an incomplete spinal cord injury,” Jones said.
Paralyzed at first from the shoulders down, against the odds Jones regained enough of his left side in the first year to walk with the aid of orthotics on his right leg and two forearm canes.
But the orthotics were painful, and even as he joined a gym and began living a healthier lifestyle, he was in constant pain because of his right leg. “My right leg wasn’t paralyzed, numb and limp,” he said. “Rather, my right leg was in constant spasm or flexed out straight, knee locked, pointing my toe like a calf cramp.”
Eventually, after much research and consultation with doctors, surgeons, orthotists, physical therapists and neurologists, Jones reached a decision: He would have his right leg amputated between the bones of the knee — what’s known as a knee disarticulation.
Before setting a date for surgery, Jones wanted to know what the postsurgery weeks and months would be like. That’s when he contacted CarePartners.
Preparing for Surgery
“I had been directed to CarePartners by my orthopedic physical therapists at Asheville Family Fitness, because they wanted someone whose expertise was spinal cord injuries and amputations to oversee my rehabilitation,” Jones said. “I met with Laura Dylus and she astounded me by digesting my 20-year spinal cord injury history and my goal of an elective knee disarticulation in the 20 minutes it took me to put it in words.”
“This is the first time in my 17 years as a physical therapist that I had a patient elect to have an amputation related to a spinal cord injury,” said Dylus. “After we discussed his history, we went into the physical examination, which included assessing Jon’s muscle strength, sensation and balance. We did an analysis of his walking and movement. Jon needed therapy to prepare him for using his prosthesis and work on overall muscle recruitment in ways he was not currently doing.”
Before he left CarePartners that day, Jones added, he was scheduled to work once a week with Dylus on gait training and once a week with aquatic therapist Ellen Hoechstetter for core strengthening. He also met with Jeremy Migner at CarePartners Orthotics & Prosthetics to better prepare for his “transition into amputee life with a prosthetic leg,” Jones said.
Jones’ elective amputation was performed on March 23.
“A couple of weeks before surgery, I got a ‘cut here’ tattoo on my right leg, exactly where I thought the first incision would be,” he said. “After my tattooed punchline got a good laugh in the operating room, Donald Gajewski, MD, of Mission Cancer Care, removed my lower right leg (tibia, fibia and foot), while leaving my entire femur intact. I was released from the hospital within days and was at CarePartners Outpatient for physical therapy within a week.”
By the way, Dr. Gajewski was able to preserve the tattoo.
“I see weekly results as I continue my physical therapy with Laura, and every day has moments in which my new stride gives me so much joy.”
Meeting the Challenges
At first, said Jones, his physical therapy was focused mostly on pain management and maintaining his flexibility.
“The pain and lack of sleep was taking its toll on my morale, but my entire CarePartners team aided me with encouragement, empathy and did all they could to help me find ways to sleep and rest through my recovery,” Jones said.
“I had lost hope that science would find a way to heal spinal cord injuries while I was young enough to benefit. Amazingly, the key to a better life for me was to be discovered in the world of prosthetics.”
One month after his surgery, Jones was standing on a prosthetic leg. “I haven’t been that happy since I first stood after my spinal cord injury,” he said. “I see weekly results as I continue my physical therapy with Laura, and every day has moments in which my new stride gives me so much joy.”
As a therapist, said Dylus, there is no greater gift than seeing your patient be successful with meeting their personal goals. “Jon lets me challenge him — and it’s obvious he trusts me because I work him hard,” she said. “We have strong communication, and that is vital because I need to know how he is doing with activities and pain when he isn’t in the clinic. I cannot praise him enough for the work he continues to do outside of therapy.”
Jones says he spent almost 20 years accepting and adapting to his injury, but never doubted his ability to live a fulfilling life. “I had lost hope that science would find a way to heal spinal cord injuries while I was young enough to benefit,” he said. “Amazingly, the key to a better life for me was to be discovered in the world of prosthetics.”
Laura Dylus is a physical therapist with CarePartners.