In October 2005, Richard Herskovitz was busy enjoying life with his wife
and three children. He retired from competitive bodybuilding in 2000 and was
focused on other things until his plans unintentionally shifted.
It was that month that Herskovitz developed a blister on one toe. He
went to visit his local doctor because he thought the toe might be broken.
After looking at the foot, his doctor sent him home assessing that the toe was
not broken. As Herskovitz explained to O&P Business News, that
night his leg swelled and became so painful he could hardly move it off the
The next morning Herskovitz was admitted to the hospital and several
days went by before emergency surgery revealed the bigger problem. Once
surgeons opened up his right leg, they determined he had necrotizing fasciitis,
also known as the flesh-eating bacteria.
Determination to move forward
Once doctors uncovered the truth lurking beneath Herskovitz’s
wincing pain, he was transferred to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma
Center where he spent 6 weeks, largely unaware of what was going on as a result
of his escalating disease.
“Two or three times per week they would take me down to surgery for
debriding. I was in the hyperbaric chamber for 4 hours each day,”
Herskovitz explained. “I was so sick, I didn’t even know what I had
until I actually got out of the hospital and was home.”
Once he returned home Herskovitz began a 15-month long treatment regimen
in an effort to save the leg. He underwent multiple skin graft surgeries but
the leg would not heal.
After retiring from bodybuilding
in 2000, Herskovitz made a comeback following his fight with necrotizing
fasciitis and resulting right leg amputation.
up the subject with the doctor, he was totally for it. It’s not something
that he would have suggested to me but since I brought it up to him, he said
that was my best option to be able to go on.”
In December 2006, Herskovitz underwent the transtibial amputation.
For awhile, things were going along smoothly. Herskovitz even returned
to the world of bodybuilding and appeared in several competitions.
This quick return to bodybuilding represented the fulfillment of a
“When I [went forward with] the amputation, I set a few goals for
myself and one of them was to get back on stage as a competitive bodybuilder
with a prosthesis,” Herskovitz explained adding that he’s been
working out on and off since he was in his 20s. He began competitive
bodybuilding in the late 1990s until 2000 when he retired from the competitive
Though he continued to work out and take care of himself, the now
49-year-old Herskovitz did not plan on making a comeback to the sport. But
there were a lot of things that happened in a short 10 years that he did not
plan for. Of his comeback, he uses words like self-serving on his website. He
never expected to inspire so many.
“It was something I never expected. I went into it really just for
myself. I was trying to build a positive self image,” he said. “I
didn’t want to look in the mirror and look at my residual limb. I
didn’t want to look in the mirror and see myself as flawed. I wanted to
look in the mirror and be happy with the reflection.”
In May 2007, the stage was set at the Baltimore Silver Cup. Herskovitz,
who worked hard to be there, did not necessarily expect to place in the
bodybuilding competition, but wanted to prove to himself that he could still
walk across that stage.
“I went to the show and kept my sweatpants on most of the time so
no one knew I had the prosthesis and then the first time I walked out on stage
… the ovation, the comments were just overwhelming,” he said. “I
didn’t realize that other people would look at what I’ve done and be
inspired or motivated. It was just overwhelming. I never expected it. It became
very emotional. It was a great experience.”
Herskovitz was recognized by the Organization of Competitive
Bodybuilders (OCB) with the Most Inspiring Bodybuilder Award. In 2008 he
claimed the OCB Ironman Award for competing in the most shows in one year.
Despite this uplifting return, he started to struggle to find comfort in
his socket after the necrotizing fasciitis claimed so much.
Herskovitz explained that his
family is proud of all that he has been able to accomplish in such a short
period of time.
“Everything was taken from my leg … the muscle, the flesh
… so the bone was right up against the skin,” he said. “It just
got to be so painful that I couldn’t walk.”
After enduring the pain for awhile, Herskovitz revisited his original
surgeon for a revision surgery. He remained a transtibial amputee but the
revision took the level up a little higher in April 2009.
Much like his reaction to the first surgery, Herskovitz was left in a
lot of pain and developed reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome, a chronic pain
condition for which symptoms include intense burning pain, skin sensitivity,
sweating and swelling. The cause for the condition is unknown and only
theorized among doctors.
“I was never able to walk following that [amputation],”
Recognizing his pain level, Dennis Haun, CPO of Maryland Orthotics &
Prosthetics referred his new patient, Herskovitz to a reconstructive plastic
surgeon. The surgeon recommended an additional amputation to the transfemoral
“He told me that my only option to be able to walk would be to
take it up above the level where the disease had destroyed the tissue and take
it above the knee,” Herskovitz explained. “It was a tough decision to
remove a healthy joint.”
When the possibility of becoming a transfemoral amputee came up,
Herskovitz reached out to the Amputee Coalition of America (ACA). Through the
ACA, he met Jack Farley, an ACA peer visitor, who was integral in
Herskovitz’s decision to move forward with a third amputation. The next
step was to meet with Haun, the transfemoral specialist at Maryland Orthotics
“He’s just been great. Jack went with me to talk to him about
the prosthesis,” Herskovitz said. “Jack was extremely confident in
his abilities and his ideas and I had full confidence in him and never looked
anywhere else and just moved forward.”
Following the second revision, Herskovitz was in and out of the hospital
for about 4 months due to infections. In February, he was finally healthy
enough to move on with his new prosthesis and a new outlook on life.
Haun said that since the second revision surgery in April 2009,
Herskovitz has done extremely well.
“He started out as most do – real timid with his walking but a
week and a half later he came back in walking with a cane,” Haun recalled.
“Then 3 weeks later he came back in walking with nothing. He’s an
exceptional fella and really nice guy.”
Herskovitz appreciates Haun’s knowledge and support.
“Everything with him is just positive. He’s so upbeat and so
knowledgeable. He just keeps me feeling that I can do whatever I want to do
because he’ll make it work,” Herskovitz said. “It’s just
nice having somebody behind you who you know has the strength and knowledge and
won’t let you get defeated.”
Second return to the stage
Though there were some hiccups following the second revision surgery, in
October, Herskovitz finally made his second comeback to the sport of
competitive bodybuilding. This marked his first time on stage in almost 2 years
but explains that he does not get nervous about competition.
“Initially I just had the desire to compete and once I got out
there, I got the desire to be competitive. I didn’t want to just do this,
I want to be good at this. I want to stand next to the able-bodied people and
compete with my physique the way it is,” he said. “The training and
the discipline and desire has made me competitive. I’ve become successful
at what I am doing. People don’t just notice the leg now. It’s the
whole package. That’s a good feeling.”
Haun has been happy to be a part of Herskovitz’s success and admits
it comes with some challenges but is worth the payoff.
“The most challenging thing with him is tracking his limb volume.
When I started with him, he hadn’t been in his complete workout physique
per se so he had extra body mass,” Haun said. “He’s been hitting
the gym so hard that he’s down to about 2% to 3% body fat so a lot of that
weight loss comes from his residual limb as well. Losing that kind of limb
volume in such a short period of time has been a real challenge.”
They are both meeting that challenge head-on. Haun welcomes Herskovitz
anytime to adjust for volume changes and lets him take the lead in terms of his
care. As much as Herskovitz benefits from Haun’s knowledge, Haun, as well
as his patients, benefit from Herskovitz’s experiences.
“The possibilities for amputees are infinite. Take a guy like Rich
who’s gone from near-death in the hospital due to infection to back out
competitively competing against able-bodied people in bodybuilding
contests,” Haun said. “That’s pretty impressive. He’s just
a great inspiration.”
In his most recent competition on October 23, Herskovitz placed fourth
in the 40- to 49-year-old age class at the OCB Yorton Cup International
Championship. — by Jennifer Hoydicz