As Al Applegate, and his wife, Sharon, wait for Applegate’s prosthetist to arrive, they chat with Carl Wardell about how Applegate is adjusting to his prosthesis. Applegate is a new transfemoral amputee, losing his leg in a motorcycle accident in May 2012, and is anxious to return to his job as a supervisor for a construction company.
Wardell, a patient advocate at AlliedOP in Mt. Laurel, N.J., is able to easily answer Applegate’s questions, because he, too, is a transfemoral amputee.
Approximately 10 years ago, Wardell lost his left leg in a car accident that also shattered his pelvis and severely injured his right leg, necessitating reconstructive knee surgery. Wardell also wears an ankle-foot orthosis to manage drop foot on his right side.
After Wardell’s accident, he worked with several prosthetists, but was never really comfortable with his prostheses.
Images: Daniel Burke
“In the beginning, it was tough because I was getting stuff that nobody really showed me how to use,” Wardell said. “And I didn’t know if it was really the right product or something that I would like. And you don’t know anything, so you trust them.”
After trying several different knee set-ups, Wardell purchased an Ottobock C-Leg on eBay, but his prosthetist would not program it. Then Wardell met Dennis Williams, CP, a prosthetist at AlliedOP, through a friend who worked as a prosthetic technician there.
“I came in and had Dennis do some stuff with me, and he’s been stuck with me ever since,” Wardell joked.
That was almost 7 years ago, and he has since turned their meeting into a career opportunity.
A new job
In May 2011, Ossur invited Wardell to test the Power Knee, so Wardell and Williams traveled to California to orient themselves with the new technology.
“When we got back from the Power Knee training, Carl was here [in the office] 3 to 4 days a week working with a therapist that we had taken to California with us,” Williams said. “And it was great, because we would have patients in the office, and I would grab Carl and bring him in to talk to them.”
Wardell was also volunteering at AlliedOP to repay them for covering the cost of his Power Knee, which was not covered under Wardell’s insurance. After several months, it was clear that Wardell’s presence in the office was beneficial, and he was offered a position at AlliedOP as a patient advocate.
“After I started talking with patients, they saw how patients related to me more than someone who wasn’t an amputee,” Wardell said. “And it really blossomed from there.”
Wardell’s responsibilities span a wide range, including visiting patients and some lab and technical work. Most recently, Wardell was certified as a prosthetics assistant.
“Now I’ll work a lot more with Dennis,” Wardell said. “I’ll see patients with him, and then go to the back and do some technical work.”
New amputees are especially appreciative of Wardell, because the initial fitting process can be extremely overwhelming.
“You are not really sure what is going on, and you don’t want to ask because you want to trust the doctor or the practitioner,” Wardell said. “So my presence sheds light on what is going on and makes the patient more comfortable. It really helps them understand what their options are.”
And most patients are also more willing to open up to Wardell, rather than their prosthetists, about their expectations or concerns because he can relate to their situation.
“I will tell them about me, which helps them open up about themselves,” Wardell said. “I am honest with them and tell them that I am just an average guy. I travel by myself and cut my own grass and walk my dog. So they can relate to a person just living everyday life.”
“Carl is where most people want to be,” Williams added. “I like to bring him in because patients will open up a little more because he is exactly the same as anyone.”
Wardell also has a wealth of knowledge to share with patients because he has seen or worn a multitude of prosthetic knees and ankles.
“I’ve had or worn everything. I’ve got the Power Knee and have had the Rheo, C-leg, hydraulic units and done things with Ossur with the Symbionic Leg,” Wardell said. “I can pretty much tell patients the pros and cons of everything, and they like that.”
Applegate agreed, saying that Wardell was a big influence when determining which knee and ankle would be right for him.
“Carl has had different kinds of knees, so they’re suggesting what is right for me for what I plan to do later in my life,” Applegate said. “He has been helping me through this whole thing.”
Eventually, it was decided that Ossur’s Rheo Knee and Proprio Foot would be ideal for Applegate because of the knee’s ability to manage tight spaces and adapt to the uneven terrain often present at construction sites.
“Carl is an amputee, so he helps a lot,” Applegate said. “When I ask a question, I get a first-hand answer from somebody that has experienced it.”
Beneficial for the practitioner
Williams added that Wardell also makes his job easier. Although Williams, himself, is a transtibial amputee, he acknowledges that his experience differs greatly from a transfemoral amputee.
“I can only relate so much, because I still have my knee,” Williams said. “Practitioners who aren’t amputees know what we know from reading the manual and watching other patients walk. But we don’t have first-hand experience being in a socket on that knee. He’s a great resource for me because he has been through all of this.”
Patients may also be less willing to question a prosthetist about their concerns, because they might be intimidated or afraid.
“There are times that a patient may be up and walking and may have something in the back of their head, but might think, ‘Maybe I’m not right. I’m not going to say anything,’” Williams said. “But then I’ll walk out, and Carl will ask how it feels, and the patient is more willing to open up to him.”
Wardell is then able to relay the patient’s concerns to Williams, which is helpful for both the patient and the practitioner.
“It helps my job a lot,” Williams said.
According to Wardell, patients also feel more comfortable calling him with questions about daily tasks, such as getting in and out of the shower or swimming.
“A lot of patients might feel like they are bothering Dennis, or whoever their practitioner is,” Wardell said. “If they just want to talk about something like getting in the shower, they will call me and we will talk about it.” — by Megan Gilbride
Disclosure: Wardell has no relevant financial disclosures.