Ronnie Flowers didn’t quite know what he was getting into.
Nearly 2 million people are living with limb loss in the United States.
Among those living with limb loss, the main causes are cardiovascular disease (54 percent), including diabetes and peripheral arterial disease, trauma (45 percent) and cancer (less than 2 percent).
Approximately 185,000 amputations occur in the United States each year.
In 2009, hospital costs associated with amputation totaled more than $8.3 billion.
African‐Americans are up to four times more likely to have an amputation than white Americans.
Nearly half of the individuals who have an amputation due to vascular disease will die within five years. This is higher than the five-year mortality rates for breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer.
Of persons with diabetes who have a lower extremity amputation, up to 55 percent will require amputation of the second leg within three years.
Amputee Coalition of America
Fellow amputees and avid triathletes Jeff Nolan and Ricky Miller coaxed him into doing a triathlon relay at the Tom Hoskins Memorial Triathlon in Irmo in July.
If you go
What: Amp1, an organization of stand-up amputee basketball players, and Limbs Without Limits will have a basketball scrimmage between amputee and nonamputee teams. Team members Tyler Hyatt and Brian Vincent will join participants in Limbs Without Limits for the amputee team.
When: 6-9 p.m. Sept. 24.
Where: Northwoods Community Park Gym, 8348 Greenridge Road, North Charleston.
Cost: Free. Fundraiser consists of a 50/50 raffle, silent auction and sale of food items.
Contact: For more information or to donate auction items, call Emily Nolan at 725-9301.
More info: Limbs Without Limits meets at 6-8 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month at HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital in North Charleston. Details at www.limbswithoutlimits.org.
Nolan would do the run and Miller the swim. All Flowers had to do was use a hand-cycle to do the 13-mile bike leg.
The easygoing, 31-year-old Flowers, who lost his left leg in a work accident in 2009, went on a few training rides with the guys to make sure he could do it. No big deal.
But what none of the three men realized was that the Hoskins Triathlon was extremely hilly.
“They threw me under the bus,” accuses Flowers of Nolan and Miller, with a big grin on his face.
Yet Flowers came out of the experience wanting to do more. Perhaps a full triathlon, and more.
Limbs Without Limits
The men are part of new amputee support group, Limbs Without Limits, which was started by Nolan and his wife, Emily, to encourage local amputees to be more active, whether it’s vigorous exercise or social activities such as bowling or playing cornhole.
The group received its nonprofit status a few weeks ago and is ready to expand its efforts.
The Nolans admit, however, that they face obstacles in the form of perceptions. Both work for Floyd Brace, one of about a half-dozen orthotic and prosthetic companies in the greater Charleston area.
Limbs Without Limits is not affiliated with Floyd Brace, though company president Larry Wiley serves on its board, but some think it is. The Nolans want to break down the walls of business competition and build a community of active amputees.
“We just want to give all amputees avenues to reach their dreams,” says Emily.
The Nolans can personally attest to the power of helping amputees move on with their lives after losing a limb.
In 2003, a 3,000-pound piece of machinery landed on both of Jeff’s legs. Over the next seven years, he wore braces and orthotic devices and had 17 different surgeries that eventually led to the amputation of his left leg.
But after the amputation and getting a new leg, life got better not only for Jeff but his whole family.
Inspired by Richard Blalock, a local runner who had a leg amputated after chronic issues with an ankle, Nolan started participating in triathlons and became a part of Floyd Brace’s Phoenix Athletes program.
On Nov. 2, Nolan and Wiley will participate in Ironman Florida, which includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run.
The bionic man
While the popular 1970’s TV show, “The Six Million Dollar Man” and its spin-off “The Bionic Woman,” gave their amputee characters superhuman powers, the shows did somewhat forecast the future, a more whole future, for those who have lost limbs.
Bionic is a fancy term for lifelike prosthetics with custom skins, motors and microchips that replicate human motions.
While ultra-sophisticated artificial limbs are expensive, advances in prosthetics and the higher profile of amputees who lost limbs while serving in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have combined to make this century a new dawn for amputees.
National organizations such as Wounded Warriors and Amputees Active Again Foundation are not only helping them lead full, happy lives but is providing inspiration to amputees, many of whom suffer from obesity and depression from lack of activity.
Starts with the mind
Floyd Brace’s Wiley is familiar with those side-effects and hopes that Limbs Without Limits will help create a new lifestyle for local amputees.
“A lot of people just look down one day and say to themselves, ‘My God, I’m an amputee. What’s next? What am I going to do?’ We encourage people to get up and get moving.”
Sometimes that can involve expensive equipment, and Wiley hopes his group eventually can fund those purchases.
For now, the group can serve as a conduit for donated equipment, as well as to connect people with other programs.
“Limbs Without Limits isn’t just about helping the amputee to recover, but their spouse and kids to recover. Life can improve after getting an amputation,” says Wiley. “But it’s all up here (in the mind). It’s all up here. I can make the leg for anyone, but if I can’t unlock the mind, there’s nothing I can do.”
Jeff Nolan, a regular participant at the Charleston Sprint Triathlon Series for the past three years, is a driving force behind creating Limbs Without Limits. On Nov. 2, he plans to compete in his first Ironman Triathlon.×
Ricky Miller, 42, of Huger, rides one of the two hand-cycles donated to Limbs Without Limits along with Ronnie Flowers.×
Limbs Without Limits meets 6-8 p.m. on the second Tuesday of every month at the back of the HealthSouth building in North Charleston.×