Never Accept Defeat

Freezing, starving and alone, Vicki Wendt never allowed herself to
accept defeat. After surviving blizzard conditions by eating nothing more than
snow for 4 days, Wendt may have lost her legs, but she never lost her faith.

On Feb. 7, 2009, Wendt and her husband, Randy, embarked on another of
their snowmobiling adventures. Randy loved the activity, so Vicki had given in
and bought her own snowmobile so she could join him. Throughout the past 6 or 7
years, they had often traveled to Cedar City, Utah, from Las Vegas to ride
their snowmobiles around the trails of the Brian Head ski area.

  Vicki Wendt credits her will and her support team for being able ro return to an active life.
  Vicki Wendt credits her will and
her support team for being able ro return to an active life.
  Image: Randy Wendt

But Vicki was not a proficient rider, often getting stuck in the snow
drifts and waiting for Randy to help her out. This day was no exception, but
the outcome was quite different.

Four days in the snow

On this day, visibility was poor when they headed out to the mountain,
and got progressively worse as a blizzard closed in on the area. They were not
riding long before they decided to head back to their truck, where their two
dogs were waiting. Randy decided to take another route back, and they lost
their way in the vast sea of white powder. They found themselves in a ravine,
where the angle was steep and the snow was deep — 5 feet on the ground,
Vicki said — and her snowmobile slid into a snow drift, burying the entire
right side of the machine. She sat and waited for Randy to turn around and come
back for her. But he never did.

Instead, he pressed on ahead, trying to find a safe place to turn
around, until he also got stuck in the snow. He kept the snowmobile running,
its engine serving as a heater, and waited for the snow to stop.

Vicki tried a few times to make her way to Randy, but the conditions
made it difficult to move at all.

“The snow was up to my shoulders and neck, and it was all powder,
so you kept falling down in it,” she said.

It was not until the third day that it stopped snowing and the sun
appeared. She said she finally was able to pull off her helmet, which had been
frozen to her hair for 2 days. Keeping an eye on the snowmobile, she began the
trek to find help and to find Randy, not stopping until they were together. She
found her husband a day and a half later, on their fourth day in the snow.

“I just sat down and started praying and thanking God for me
getting where I was at, and before I even said ‘amen,’ I looked up
and there was a helicopter,” she said.

They had been a mere 100 yards apart the whole time — a relatively
short distance, but under those conditions, a world apart.

Amputation and recovery

Once the paramedics loaded Vicki into the ambulance, they tried to pull
off her boots but were unable to remove them. Instead, they cut them off her
and found injuries amounting to bad burns. She was placed in the
hospital’s burn unit for 3 weeks before being sent home. But after only a
day and a half at home, she became septic and returned to the hospital.

The decision was made to remove her feet. When the orthopedic surgeon
recommended amputation at the ankle level, Vicki got some advice from the
physical therapist she had been working with in the hospital. He said that she
would have an easier time in the long run with a transtibial amputation, and it
would avoid the possibility of revision surgery later on.

  Once the Wendts met with Trace Klein, CP, they cancelled the appointments scheduled with other Prosthetists.
  Once the Wendts met with Trace
Klein, CP, they cancelled the appointments scheduled with other Prosthetists.
  Image: Trace Klein

“I’ve suffered long enough, I’m not going through
that,” Vicki told O&P Business News. “I have things
to do, places to see, and I’m not going through that.”

She discussed the higher level limb removal with her orthopedic surgeon
and on May 4, 2009, Vicki became a bilateral transtibial amputee.

Vicki and Randy set out to interview prosthetists to help Vicki through
the process of becoming mobile again. Their first meeting was with Trace Klein,
CP. They spoke at length about Vicki’s ordeal and about the activity level
to which she was hoping to return; Klein recommended a high-activity
prosthesis, and discussed a payment plan that would allow her to afford these
devices despite that her third party payer only covered $4,500 worth of
prosthetic coverage.

Prosthetic life

The Wendts canceled their appointments with other prosthetists and Klein
started casting Vicki and creating her test sockets.

“She went right in and stood up, had a big smile on her face, took
her first steps. She was just elated,” Klein said. “I was able to
align the prostheses for her, and she did really well right from the

Vicki completed 12 weeks of physical therapy, learning balance,
strengthening exercises and how to complete activities of daily life, Klein
said. She alternated between a walker and a cane until she was strong enough to
walk on her own.

“I was so determined to accomplish this,” Vicki said.
“Through him encouraging me, I started walking without a cane or walker or
holding onto the parallel bars 4 weeks after having the legs.”

After 6 months Klein created cosmetic covers on her prostheses at no
charge to Vicki. Within the first year, Vicki had lost quite a bit of weight
throughout her rehabilitation process, and Klein had to make her a second set
of sockets to again achieve the proper fit. They already have begun padding the
new sockets, she said.

She credits Klein with everything she has been able to accomplish since
her amputation.

“Without him, I wouldn’t be able to walk,” she said.

Klein shares her sense of admiration.

“There’s a Vicki in a lot of prosthetists’ lives,”
he said. These patients show that “we need to do our best to achieve our
goals in life. If we’re kicked down, we need to get back up.”

Moving on

Vicki, now 53 years old, has returned to that mountain where she almost
lost her life. She conquered her fears long enough to ride her snowmobile into
the area, but then quickly decided that she had accomplished something
important just by visiting the area. She asked Randy to sell her snowmobile
once they returned home.

She has written a book, Lost and Frozen: Cedar Mountain,
, about her experience; she also finished up her bachelor’s
degree and recently began a new job as a community manager at the Robbin’s
Nest Mobile Village in Overton, Utah.

“No matter how bad a situation may seem, there’s always
hope,” she said. “If you really want to accomplish something in your
life, you must have the will and a good support team.”

She included in that support team medical professionals like Klein,
family members, friends and those able to offer spiritual guidance.

“If you begin to feel like giving up, then maybe you might need to
seek some professional help in order to deal with the situation you’re
in,” she said.

“And don’t go snowmobiling without a GPS.” — by
Stephanie Z. Pavlou

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