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Celebrating National Disability Independence Day

By Peggy Richardson, Executive Assistant, LifePoint Group, TeamHealth

Today we commemorate the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26, 1990, as National Disability Independence Day. The ADA was passed by Congress as the nation’s first comprehensive law that provides protection from employment discrimination as well as better access to goods, services and communications for people with disabilities. Although the ADA has helped millions of Americans with disabilities achieve equal treatment, there are still barriers to public accommodation. While the focus of the ADA initially was providing barrier-free access in places of public accommodation, as consumers have moved online, the law’s focus has expanded to the internet.

This day celebrates advances for those with disabilities, such as:

  • Wheelchair accessibility on doorways and sidewalks
  • Braille signs and crosswalks for the vision impaired
  • Enhanced assistive technology
  • Online accessibility through web design and technology for desktop, tablet, apps and mobile devices

The Meaning of Disability

Disability comes in many ways, and in varying severity. Some people have disabilities from birth; others have disabilities as a result of some events in the course of their lives, while others have it just by aging. Mental, physical and learning difficulties are just three kinds of differences that fall into the disability category. Growing up with two neighborhood children; one born paralyzed from the waist down and the other with a mental disability, it was heartbreaking to watch the stares and hear the insensitive comments as if the person was not whole or was different than others. I am sure if these children had a choice, they would prefer not to be “labeled” disabled which not only makes them feel different but also brings attention to their “personal deficit.”

The Perception of disABILITY is Changing

The progress made in society about disability is largely due to education, information and support by communities. One good thing is people have come to appreciate that it is wrong to call people with disabilities names and keep them away from society. People with a disability are very human, just like everyone else. This is where diversity and inclusion comes into play, especially as a priority to TeamHealth.

In early 2013, two separate bombings occurred during the Boston Marathon, causing loss of life and several runners to become amputees, instantly “disabled.” As a result of their tragedy, it changed the perception of being without a limb, these athletes were placed in the spotlight as heroes and this unfortunate event raised public awareness of being disabled, bringing to light new technology, robotics and state-of-the-art prosthetics as well as changing disability to ability.

Why Am I Here?

I am a below-the-knee amputee who serves as Executive Assistant to Stan Thompson, MD, LifePoint Group President and CCO, Kevin Sass, Market Executive Vice President and Angelia Ross, Vice President, Finance of the LifePoint Group. I am based in the Brentwood, Tenn. office and am actively involved with the TeamHealth Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee and work closely with the founding leaders and subcommittees.

Before I came to work for TeamHealth, I underwent minor foot surgery in 2012. The surgical site reopened three times within three months upon healing and weight-bearing. A culture was performed which tested positive for Methicillin Resistant Staph Aureus or MRSA. Not good. Despite having a high threshold, my pain tolerance was tested to the max. I was given the choice to continue to fight it with antibiotics which really would not address the problem or remove my right leg below my knee. It was a tough decision. There was no reversal. I did not know anyone who had been through it. I had heard of phantom pain but did not have a grasp on what it really meant. It was the toughest decision of my life.

People Come Into Your Life for a Reason

When I reluctantly made the decision to amputate, I was introduced to a double-amputee, Daryl Farler. (His journey is documented on YouTube here.) Daryl had contracted MRSA from a dog scratch at the corner of his eye. Within 24 hours, he was in the ICU, organs shutting down, not expected to live. He lost both legs, most of his fingers and an eye but he survived and changed his career to be an advocate and mentor for people like me.

He alleviated my fears by asking the right questions and explained expectations. I used to be an avid hiker but could do it no longer. Daryl painted a picture of how the prosthetic works and how it would make it possible for me to do the things I wanted to. He changed my thinking from “woe is me” to being positive.

Believe it or not, I got “excited” that I could be “normal” again, but it was up to me to succeed. On the flip side, he cautioned the road ahead would also be bumpy, it would not be perfect, I would have “good leg days and bad leg days,” (I now understand this as I have what I call a “barometric peg leg” and can predict bad weather before it happens) but it would get better. Be patient, communicate and be aware some amputees go through the cycles of post-operative grief. He further explained, “Losing a limb is like losing a spouse.”

Ready, Set, Go!!

Surgery went well. I had phantom pain along with good and bad days but over time learned to manage. I was back to work in a record four weeks but soon thereafter, Daryl’s prediction became literal when my husband, Scotty, passed away suddenly from a ruptured aortic aneurysm. He was my soulmate, my support system and best friend, and now he was gone. I had to restart the path to recovery alone, and it was harder than I could ever imagine. My prostatist and his staff took me under their wing and tried different prosthetics to determine the best fit for me, even robotics, but when I got a blade, it was exactly what I needed. I have returned to hiking, kayaking, camping, am able to walk the beach without pain, and the quality of life I thought I had lost forever is back and better than ever. Life is good!

In Summary

Every June 18, I celebrate my “ampuversary.” With gratitude, my strong faith, supportive friends, family and coworkers, a positive outlook on life, and a wicked sense of humor, I can achieve most anything (except I am afraid to get on a roller coaster in fear my prosthetic might fly off and hit someone in the head). Like Daryl, I have made visits to new amputee patients in the hospital and rehabilitation centers to alleviate their fears, show the females they too can wear thong sandals (as well as get pedicures at half price), and help start their journey on the same path I began eight years ago. Whether my advice is taken to help them make their first steps is their decision, but they know I will be cheering them on. I cannot speak for all disabled but personally, having a holiday to celebrate independence is also a day to turn “disability” into disABILITY.