For most people, celebrating a birthday is marked with smiles, cards,
cake and in the company of friends. For “Boston” Bill Hansbury –
a nickname he got from being a native of Boston – one birthday claims a
different spot in his memory. On Oct. 2, 2007 – Hansbury’s 70th
birthday – his active lifestyle was threatened, but his hopes stayed
intact as he underwent his right
Do or die
Hansbury looks back on the event and remembers it was a “case of do
That fall, Hansbury, who is known for pushing the odometers of his
running shoes and bicycle off the charts, went for a typical run in the woods.
The following day he noticed his leg was a little red, but recalls it was not
swollen at that time.
“It was nothing alarming because when you run in the woods like I
do over the rocks and everything your twisting your foot left and right and you
don’t even notice you’re doing it,” Hansbury told O&P
Business News. You get so used to it, it doesn’t really bother you,
so that’s all that was.”
Or so he thought. The redness persisted for a few days and then soreness
was added to the growing list of concerning symptoms. Following his instincts,
Hansbury went to see a physician and was administered antibiotics in case he
had some sort of infection.
“He said put a clean sock on it and keep an eye on it, and to leave
the sock on, take the medication and check it in 48 hours,” Hansbury said.
“I took the sock off in 48 hours and the skin, the actual meat on my foot
started to come off with the sock. I took the sock and carefully pulled it back
up again, trying to get everything to fall back into place. I knew right then
and there that I had lost my foot.”
Calmly, Hansbury said he packed a small bag and called a friend to take
him to the emergency room. At the hospital physicians concluded that a
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureusinfection was the
culprit of Hansbury’s worsening foot woes. Here too, he realized his first
assumption was accurate: he was going to lose his foot.
|Working alongside Rieth, Hansbury
was able to get back to bicycling within 12 weeks of his transtibial
|Image: Bill Hansbury|
“It’s not a moment I think about too much anymore, but when I
do think about it … it made me sad,” Hansbury said of losing his
foot. “It was not just a foot it was like it was a friend because I had
been through so many marathons and races and years of running. It made me feel
Following the amputation, Hansbury’s surgeon came back to him with
startling news. He had to take the amputation higher because of the advanced
Hansbury’s only request: not to take his knee.
“[The doctor] said ‘look you’ve got maybe 48 hours and
you won’t be here,’” Hansbury said. “I said,
‘you’ve got to do what you got to do’.
The surgeon heeded Hansbury’s only request and was able to rid his
body of the infection while leaving his knee intact.
“I realized I didn’t have a leg anymore. I didn’t get
mad. I didn’t get angry. I just felt determination,” Hansbury said.
After a 1-month hospital stay, Hansbury was eager to get back to the
active lifestyle he had before his amputation surgeries. Within 2 days of his
release, he found a way to get back to what he loved.
“A few days after my surgery my friend came in and he is a double
amputee,” he said. “I asked him if he could get me a hand cycle. I
began to use that … to go to my house downtown which is about five or six
miles. I was exhausted. I’m not used to peddling with my arms.”
Hansbury explained that he was in a cast for about 12 weeks and once it
was removed, he did not waste any time returning to his own bike and old
“I was having difficulty maintaining balance and I had made several
attempts to get on the bike and I just couldn’t stay upright,” he
said. “I have a van and I stopped on a small hill, and I got on my bike. I
said I’m going to go down this hill and when I get to the bottom I’m
either going to be peddling this thing or wrapped around a tree. I put myself
in a win-win situation and by the time I got to the bottom of the hill I was
riding and I rode for about two miles. The next day I rode 14 and the next day
I rode 20.”
The next challenge was being fitted for a running leg, which returned
him to his earlier lifestyle of bicycling 7 days each week and running 4 or 5
days each week. Prosthetist Mike Rieth, CPO of St. Petersburg Limb and Brace
played a large part in helping Hansbury to reach that milestone.
They worked together, literally from day 1.
“I didn’t know it at the time, Mike was in the operating room,
so when the surgeon was finished with his work Mike put my leg in a cast,”
A perfect match
Rieth and Hansbury describe their relationship similarly. They each
bring enthusiasm and determination to the table of challenges. And they
complement each other well. Hansbury is always on the go and Rieth knows when
to tell him to slow down.
“Mike guided me … for example he knew that I would be active.
He knew that I would be out there wanting to ride my bike, so he made sure that
I had things that would help me and would be tolerant to the beating I was
going to give them,” Hansbury said. “So he worked with me in helping
me to make life a lot easier.”
Rieth said that Hansbury was determined to walk without a limp and he
achieved it by focusing on strengthening his body.
“You can’t underestimate anybody,” Rieth said when he was
asked about what he’s taken away from working with Hansbury.
“It’s all motivation. It’s all drive. It’s what you want to
do. He’s had a few setbacks but for the most part, I can’t keep up
Hansbury appreciates that positive attitude that Rieth mirrors.
“Mike is the kind of guy who is encouraging. He has
a wonderful attitude,” Hansbury said. “Any time that I’ve had a
problem, I get in there right away and he straightens it out. If I have a point
of irritation, he figures out instantly where it is and makes it comfortable
again. He’s never failed. Not once. And believe me I’ve been in there
many, many times.”
The two have taken a respectful working relationship to build a lasting
“He’s the kind of a guy that isn’t just a prosthetist,
he’s a friend,” Hansbury said. “He’s my friend.”
Boston Bill Foundation
Because of the experience that Hansbury had and the positive outcome of
his surgery and fittings, Rieth and Hansbury’s surgeon asked him to play a
larger role in the process.
“They would ask me to visit patients in the hospital, to try and
pick them up a little bit and share with them how to get back and get
going,” Hansbury said. “I started to do that and I found that there
were some people, because of the lack of insurance coverage and not having any
money, did not have a limb and were not able to get a limb or get them as
quickly as they should.”
Hansbury saw this as a call to action to try to get additional access
to quality care for people with amputations. His response was to start the
Boston Bill Foundation, a nonprofit corporation that seeks to raise funds to
purchase artificial legs.
June 6 will mark the beginning of a fundraising drive for the
Foundation. Hansbury will be bicycling from Florida to New York.
Perhaps one of the most memorable patient interactions Hansbury had was
one that was unplanned.
As reported in the article “A New World” in the Oct. 15, 2009
article in O&P Business News, Jake Bainter, 7 years old, was
on the way to the hospital with his family to undergo his knee disarticulation
surgery as a result of a lawnmower accident.
By chance, Hansbury was bicycling around the corner as the family
approached in their car. Hansbury explained that he was having trouble with the
pedal clips for his prosthetic foot. The family pulled over, noticing that he
was an amputee, hopeful that he could reassure them that they were making the
The chance meeting gave Bainter’s parents the peace of mind they
needed to feel at ease with the decision that had to make for their young son.
Hansbury stressed that he’d never had trouble with the clips before
that incident and never has since.
Even the most unexpected events can leave a lasting effect. — by
For more information:
- Hoydicz J. A new world. O&P Business News. 2009; 18(20):
28-29. Available at: www.oandpbusinessnews.com/200910b/fs2.asp Accessed: April 21,