AK Amputee/Shotgun Blast
renardwc at ctrvax.Vanderbilt.Edu
Wed Feb 2 04:04:38 PST 2000
Betty Cunningham was lucky to get away alive that day in April 1997 when
her husband chased her down the street of their Murfreesboro, TN
neighborhood and shot her. Police reports at the time say Warden
Cunningham then turned the 12-gauge shotgun on himself and fired again.
He died from a wound to the head. Betty Cunningham, 46 years old at the
time, shot in the left leg, was rushed to the hospital.
The gun contained a deer slug. It pierced her skin and then expanded,
severing a major artery and ripping her flesh. There was so much damage
doctors could not save the leg. It was amputated 6 inches above the
knee. But she was alive.
In the years since, Cunningham has worked to regain stability in her
life. "The emotional recovery is something you have to deal with day in
and day out," she says. "What has motivated me is a faith in God as a
Christian. The scripture says I can do all things through Christ who
strengthens me. Every day I have to meet with the Lord." As for her
physical recovery, Cunningham lives life as an amputee now.
At the time of the injury, she spent two weeks in the hospital, then two
weeks in rehabilitation, followed by another seven to eight months of
outpatient physical therapy. As her leg healed, she was first fitted
with a temporary prosthesis to replace her missing leg. With it, she
worked with specialists to regain strength and to learn to walk again.
"That was hard," Cunningham remembers. "You totally lose your balance
and trusting that something will hold you up. And not having a knee, but
something you will have to make bend."
Physical therapist Sandy Shankle did not work with Cunningham, but in
her work at Baptist Rehabilitation Center sees clients in similar
situations all the time. Research indicates the majority of amputations
are the result of complications of diabetes. Accidents and cancerous
tumors are the other most common causes.
Amputee patients typically spend weeks in rehabilitation before they are
sent home with a schedule of home health visits. "We teach them
exercises to keep (the affected limb) good and strong and range of
motion exercises to keep the range," Shankle explains. "They need to be
able to move it well to get the prosthesis."
Specific exercises target the hip muscles, the lower back muscles and
the muscles of the thighs. "You have to have strong back muscles. That
is what's going to hold your trunk up," Shankle says. "We work on
sitting balance, weight shifting in sitting, and we do some standing
with them if they are able, and depending on the condition of their
Shankle says how well patients do depends on several things, including
how far up the leg was amputated and the condition of the other leg.
"The higher up the amputation, the harder it is to walk with the
prosthesis and the more energy is expended" in walking, she says.
By June, Cunningham was ready to start walking, using a prosthesis and a
cane. In February 1998, she was back working. A nurse by training, she
was hired as a clinical research coordinator at Murfreesboro Medical
"They were great to give me a job when I needed a job," Cunningham says.
"It's amazing how many people are there for you. You don't know who to
go to. There are a lot of people willing to help." Terry Deason,
Cunningham's supervisor at work, says her spirit is inspirational. "She
has the most incredible attitude of just about anyone I have ever
known," says Deason. "She really has a wonderful outlook on life. If you
didn't know she had had the accident, you wouldn't guess."
Cunningham says her challenges these days vary. Sometimes it's simply
educating others about amputees. For instance, she often finds herself
having to convince people that ramps may be good for people in
wheelchairs but not for leg amputees. "Everybody thinks you need ramps.
Ramps are not an amputee's friend," she says. "They are nightmares. It
will make your knee bend, and you will fall. Steps are easier, you have
a rail. She's also gotten comfortable with dealing with the "what
happened" questions. "Most people assume it was cancer or knee surgery,"
she says. "Depending on who it is, where I am, who is around, I'll talk
about it. Most of the time I say it's an accident."
There is also the ongoing problem of phantom pain, a phenomenon whereby
amputees feel pain where the missing limb would be. Researchers can't
explain it. "I always have it," she says. "Some days it's worse than
others. Right now, my foot and knee hurt and they aren't there."
Cunningham says the one thing she wished she had had when the incident
happened was someone to talk to about what was ahead. A support group
being formed by Nashville Orthotic & Prosthetic Services will fill a
void, she says. "I kept wanting to talk to someone else with the same
problem. What you don't know somebody else may know," she says. "The
girl in the news who has meningitis (Kaia Jergenson), she has really
been on my heart. Then there was a police officer here in town who lost
his leg. There are so many people."
An amputee support group meets 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Nashville Orthotic
and Prosthetic Services, 1814 State St. Call 327-1546 to find out more.
More information about the Amp-l