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What if you lost both legs — at age 17?

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This is a recent story in my local paper about a very good friend of mine who is a member of our local amputee support group and is a real inspiration. Enjoy. :)

Friday, October 14, 2005

What if you lost both legs — at age 17?

Friday, October 14, 2005

Could you live a normal life?

Adam Lawlor did. And he has.

By Kathleen Norton

Poughkeepsie Journal

SALT POINT — It is part of Adam Lawlor's morning routine — making his legs whole.

He puts a prosthesis on each side, goes to work in his brother's auto body shop, spends time with his wife and kids, removes the artificial limbs and goes to bed.

"I kind of take it for granted. I get up, put them on and go," he shrugged.

At age 38, he has been a bilateral amputee since a devastating car accident 20 years ago.

Out behind Matt's Auto Body Shop, with the clanking of tools and the chatter of co-workers as background noise, Lawlor explained how the prostheses fit to his lower legs.

Rolling up his jeans, he showed one of the artificial limbs that meet his real legs below the knees and disappear inside his sneakers.

"Magic legs" — that's what his two young sons call them.

After the accident, as a teenage boy in love with cars and with fixing them, Lawlor had one question for doctors: Would he be able to drive?

Soon, fitted with his new prostheses, he was behind the wheel of a car and since then, he's handled just about anything that runs by engine. He's been a truck driver and he rides snowmobiles and four-wheelers.

But riding a bike — powered by his own legs — was a different challenge.

His prostheses made pedaling awkward. He'd pedal forward, then hit a "dead spot" and come to a stop because his prostheses weren't flexible enough to allow for that much crouching.

Bike adjusted

Then, a few weeks ago, he met some people who were amputees on a cross-country bike ride. They showed him how to make adjustments to a bike to make up for the flexibility problem.

Now he's pedaling smoothly along with his wife Linda and their sons, Matthew, 5, and A.J., 7.

The "magic legs" go around and around, and the act of riding a bike is as routine for him as most other people, though Lawlor thinks of it as something else entirely.

"It's awesome," he said.

And just as the cyclists gave him some help, he does the same for others in the Poughkeepsie Amputee Support Group. At meetings and in visits to hospitals, he gives people advice on how to get on with their lives after an amputation, and how to deal with the practicality of having artificial limbs.

A trained peer visitor, Lawlor tells them that he uses a wheelchair on Sundays to rest his legs from the prostheses, and that the artificial limbs have to be replaced every four or five years. Having a good fit with any prosthesis is crucial to avoid pain, pressure and skin irritation.

More than his practical advice, it is his attitude that leaves an impression.

"You never, ever hear my husband say, 'poor me,' " said Linda Lawlor, whose own father lost two legs to diabetes.

"He doesn't realize the effect he has on people," she said of her husband. "He makes them very comfortable with it."

Family activities important

She said he hasn't let anything stand in the way of being active with his family. He makes her nervous when he's up on a ladder fixing something, but gives her joy when he's playing ball with the boys.

"There are men who don't do with their children what he does," she said.

"He's my inspiration," Larry Smith of Poughquag said. The bottom of Smith's left leg had to be amputated on June 4, 2004, because of vascular disease.

The first time Smith and Lawlor met, Smith had no idea of the extent of the other man's disability.

"I thought only one was" amputated, Smith said. Then he got the whole story on Lawlor.

"I thought, 'Whoa,' " Smith recalled.

He's also had an operation on his right leg, because of the same health problems, and wonders what it would be like to lose that one, too.

"Sometimes I think about what if the other leg is cut off and how I would feel," Smith said.

Lawlor does not shy away from talking about his accident. It happened just a few miles from where he lives and works now, on the main drag that winds through his hometown.

He was 17 then, out driving around with a friend. When the car crashed, Lawlor took the brunt of the impact.

One foot was severed in the crash, and he lost half his blood. He had been thrown into a snowbank, which slowed the bleeding and saved his life. The other foot and lower leg was so badly damaged, amputation was the only option.

The accident was on Feb. 16, 1985, a detail he mentioned quietly in the way that people do when they tell you about some trauma, and the exact date when things changed for them.

In the beginning, a stranger came to his room in St. Francis Hospital in Poughkeepsie.

"The guy came in, and to this day, we don't know who he was, but he was an amputee and he just walked in," said Margie Masella, Lawlor's mother.

"Adam didn't have any prostheses yet and this guy really showed him what can be done," said the former nurse.

It was her second trauma involving a car crash. She had lost her husband years earlier as the result of brain injuries from an accident. As serious as Adam's condition was, his mother had one overwhelming thought: "Thank God it's not his head."

After working overnight nursing shifts at another hospital, she would go to the bedside of the youngest of her five sons, then leave him to go home and sleep.

Support from doctors, nurses, therapists, neighbors, family and friends helped them get through it.

Meals and groceries appeared on her doorstep, and a fundraiser was held. She said she always left the hospital feeling that her boy was in good hands.

Masella said families straddle a fine line between wanting to do whatever they can for the person, but backing off so they learn to do for themselves.

"You can't wrap them in cotton wool. You can't baby them," Masella said. "If there are obstacles, you have to find a way to go over them and around them."

It was hardest to hold back as her son struggled to walk again. Twenty years ago, on the day he took his first steps with his new prostheses, she hid behind the door and peeked into the room, afraid he would see her crying.

The whole time, Masella kept in mind the doctor who had put his arm around her at the start of the ordeal, and had promised: "Your son is going to walk again."

The doctor was right. Lawlor did that, and years later, did much more.

He danced with his mother at his wedding.

Kathleen Norton can be reached at knorton@poughkeepsiejournal.com

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Thanks for posting the story here Johnny. I read it the other day and it really made me smile. In fact, I mailed the lady who wrote the article, because she did such a good job.

Often I can pick up very slight but distinctly condescending undertones from the journalists. In fact, one article I read recently about amputees stated "they can go on to lead productive lives, raise families..."


Give me strength!!!

I enjoyed this article very much.

Thanks again,


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Thanks Johnny, it's always nice to read about someone who has managed to take on life's challenges and come out a winner! Good for him, what a wonderful story of how the mind can accept, what the body has lost and move on with life. Having a good positive attitude, IMO, is the best medicine of all. :D

Sheila lbk

Maine USA

Keep Smiling :)

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