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Amputee support group offers info, understanding

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Amputee support group offers info, understanding

By Larry Fisher-Hertz

Poughkeepsie Journal

When John Vacca learned he had a cancerous tumor on his lower leg two years ago, he absorbed the shock, then asked his doctor how long he could put off the surgery.

''I was told to take my time,'' said Vacca, a computer analyst for the Dutchess County government, ''but I shouldn't take longer than 30 days.''

Less than a month later, surgeons amputated the bottom half of Vacca's leg.

He remembers the struggles he had during those first few weeks of physical therapy after surgery. A year ago, he decided to try to make life a little easier for other amputees in the region by starting a support group.

''What you go through is definitely a little like post-traumatic stress disorder,'' Vacca said. ''When I was in physical therapy, I asked around about any support groups for amputees, but there weren't any outside of New York City.''

With the help of patient advocates at St. Francis Hospital and the Amputee Coalition of America, Vacca launched the Poughkeepsie Amputee Support Group. Once a month, men and women who have lost a limb or a portion of a limb meet with professionals in the field to offer each other support and discuss topics such as advances in prosthetics and coping with pain.

''Being with other amputees is very empowering,'' Vacca said. ''Regardless of what it is we're experiencing, it's a feeling only other amputees can truly understand.''

Now that the Amputee Support Group is approaching its first anniversary, Vacca believes it's time for the organization to expand its work. On June 5, the group and the Amputee Coalition of America will conduct a Peer Training Seminar.

The event is open to amputees who wish to help others adjust to their limb loss. Deadline for registration is May 29. Call the ACA at 1-888-267-5669, extension 8132.

Vacca said about a dozen people attend the group's monthly meetings. According to the ACA, about five out of every 1,000 people in the United States are living without a limb or part of a limb -- meaning there are probably hundreds of amputees in Dutchess and Ulster counties.

If you'd like to learn more about the Amputee Support Group, you're invited to the next meeting, May 13 at 6 p.m. in the atrium of St. Francis Hospital in the Town of Poughkeepsie

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