Paddy Rossbach, RN: Consumer Power

By Miki Fairley

Paddy Rossbach is truly a Renaissance woman-a passionate driving force for amputees' quality of life, a staunch, outspoken consumer advocate, an organizer, a mover and shaker-and a noted horsewoman in Arabian dressage who has placed high in competitions, a marathon runner, a sportswoman in other areas, and a loving and devoted wife.

Paddy Rossbach, RN, and her horse Sienna collect their Top Ten Award at the Arabian Sporthorse Nationals.
Paddy Rossbach, RN, and her horse Sienna collect their Top Ten Award at the Arabian Sporthorse Nationals.

For more than ten years, Rossbach has been a dynamic presence in the Amputee Coalition of America (ACA). In September 2001 she was named interim CEO following the resignation of John Miller, and in March of 2002 she was named president and CEO.

Rossbach's path to becoming an energizing force for improving the life of persons with limb loss or differences started early. Born just before World War II in London, England, Rossbach moved with her family-her parents and younger brother David-to The New Forest in southern England because of the ferocious blitz by the Germans. It was here that she lost a leg at the age of six when she was struck by a military truck. "It was a difficult time because there were no antibiotics," Rossbach says. "However, they were able to save my knee, so that was a great help."

Rossbach's strong, independent, "can-do" personality came to her aid, even at that young age. She remembers her mother telling her that when she came out of the hospital on crutches, she slipped and fell. Her mother Ann had said, "Darling, when I ran to help you, you looked up at me and said, 'Don't you ever try to help me again!' And I didn't."

In England, many youngsters customarily go away to boarding school, as Rossbach did when she was nine years old. "This was the best possible thing for me," she says. "I went, just as my brother and cousins did, and it helped me to become independent immediately."

Rossbach attended the school in Winchester, Hampshire, until she was nearly 18. She applied to a nursing school but could not attend until she was 19 and a half. Her work in an orphanage in the meantime included caring for 15 children ranging in age from six months to three years 22 hours a day. Her nursing career began with studies at the Nightingale Training School at St. Thomas Hospital in London, followed by midwifery training at Radcliff Hospital, Oxford. She then became a nursing sister and charge nurse at St. Stephens Hospital in London. As a preview of things to come, Rossbach recalls, "When I was in nurse training, one of my patients was a little girl who needed an amputation. That was my first peer visit." In the hospitals where she has worked, the orthopedic surgeons would often ask her to visit patients who were having amputations.

Looking for new horizons, Rossbach moved to the United States in 1966. She first worked at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital and Manhattan Eye, Ear, Nose, and Throat Hospital, both in New York, New York. She then went to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center also in New York City.

"This was one of the first babies I worked with-a double amputee who is now 17 and captain of his high school golf team, and also an excellent ice hockey player," Rossbach said.
"This was one of the first babies I worked with-a double amputee who is now 17 and captain of his high school golf team, and also an excellent ice hockey player," Rossbach said.

At Memorial Sloan-Kettering, she often was a counselor for children undergoing amputations. Rossbach also began running marathons, which led her into doing research on the effects of aerobic conditioning and muscle strengthening on the energy expenditure of amputees at the Hospital for Special Surgery, New York City. Conscious of the physical and psychological benefits of activity for amputees, she co-founded with athletic trainer and physical therapist David Balsley an organization called Adolescent Sarcoma Patients Intense Rehabilitation with Exercise (ASPIRE) to help children and young people get back into an active lifestyle through sports and recreational activities.

Through her work with ASPIRE, Rossbach got acquainted with ACA founder Mary Novotny, became involved with the organization, and soon became a member of the board of directors.

One of Rossbach's most rewarding activities has been working with the Landmine Survivors Network (LSN) to train outreach workers in peer visitation and to assist with healthcare provider training. Working with LSN, she traveled to Jordan four times, El Salvador twice, and once to Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Retiring-But Not to the Beach!

Now this dynamic lady is retiring-but only as president and CEO of the ACA. "I'm passionate about the ACA, and now I feel it's time to take the ACA to the next level," Rossbach explains. "To do that, the ACA needs someone with a different set of skills, especially experience in marketing and fundraising."

Rossbach has two more reasons for retiring. She wants to spend more time with her husband James, an avid fly fisherman who was recently diagnosed with diabetes. "I want to be able to travel with him on fishing trips and do more things together." And the other reason: "I'm going to be 70 this January; I've been working for 52 years, and now it's time to stop and smell the roses."

However, Rossbach will likely continue her involvement with the ACA in a different capacity. Plus, she will stay on in her present position until a new president and CEO is found although she hopes to step down by March 2008 when her contract comes up for renewal.

"I just don't see myself sitting by the ocean reading good books," she says laughing. In fact, Rossbach's day starts early. She rises at 5:15 a.m. at her home in Salisbury, Connecticut, to feed her dog and seven cats, including two small kittens, and go to the gym for a workout. She then heads for the farm about 20 miles away to ride her horses. After that whirlwind start, she's at her desk by 9:30 a.m.

Rossbach Speaks Out

The lively youngster shown here running with Rossbach is the same baby with limb loss that she helped to grow into an active lifestyle (see black and white photo above).
The lively youngster shown here running with Rossbach is the same baby with limb loss that she helped to grow into an active lifestyle (see black and white photo above).

As a passionate advocate for amputees and longtime observer of the O&P scene, Rossbach speaks out frankly. Regarding parity, she not only wants to see prosthetic parity in every state, but at the national level as well. "My vision is national parity where prosthetic care could be accessed by everyone, including those without insurance. We have to take it a step at a time, so we chose to start with state parity. Not only is it the right thing to do, but if you can get people into comfortably fitting, appropriate prostheses, you're much more likely to get people back into the workforce, paying taxes, shopping, helping the economy, and contributing to society rather than being dependent on it."

Rossbach speaks movingly of the problems faced by many persons with amputation. "I've been fortunate that I've had such good care, but I realize that there are people who struggle daily with painful, ill-fitting prostheses and often don't know that things could be different," she says.

"I was reminded of that recently when I awoke with a tiny sore on my residual limb. It was very painful, like walking on a pointed stone inside my socket. When people are trying to get their prosthesis reimbursed, repaired, upgraded, or a new one, they are struggling with one that doesn't fit. I can tell you that it is very draining, not conducive to being active, and creates a deeply depressed mood. It's like someone put a black cloud over your head. We call it the black cloud syndrome! When it's comfortable again, it's like that cloud goes away and the sun comes out-it's that dramatic."

She encourages prosthetists to communicate well with patients and to build long-lasting relationships. Prosthetists need to see their patient not as an amputee, but rather as a person who has an amputation. "It is really important for prosthetists to remember, even though they work with people with limb loss every day and it may seem routine, that to the person coming through their door, the limb loss is likely the most devastating thing that has happened or will ever happen to them. They don't know if they're going to be able to cope or what they're going to be able to do," Rossbach says.

"I believe that every prosthetist should make sure that every single patient knows about the ACA, knows that there are support groups and peer visitors, and that educational materials are available. The materials we provide are excellent; prosthetists really don't need to develop their own but can use what we have. I think every facility and every patient should be a member of the ACA."

A larger membership would also reduce the ACA's dependence on manufacturers and other sponsors, Rossbach points out. "People get anxious about that. The sponsors are extremely generous, and we are very grateful for their sponsorship. However,

it does sometimes create problems for a consumer organization because other factions think we're in the pocket of one particular group or another," she says. "The way to avoid that is for every amputee and O&P facility to become a member. With money coming in from a multitude of small membership donations, we would be independent. If the manufacturers and others want to donate, that's extremely appreciated, but we should be supported by the people who utilize our services, and these services should be utilized."

Looking at other aspects of the O&P and amputee community, Rossbach observes, "As we do move forward and look toward improved prosthetic care, the national O&P organizations need to work together cooperatively. This appears to be happening much more than it ever has before. People are recognizing that this industry is too small for groups to be competing against one another."

The current pace of technological advances is very exciting, Rossbach notes, but adds this reality check: "Currently it's very difficult for some people to obtain even a basic prosthesis. So how will people be able to access some of this incredible technology being developed, mostly in response to the current conflicts? Even though I absolutely support any technology or techniques that will improve the lives of people that have given so much for their country, I feel very strongly that they should also be available to everyone."

Rossbach again speaks from the heart about the ACA. "For me, one of the saddest things is when somebody finally finds us and says, I wish so much I had learned about you at the time I had my amputation. It would have saved me so much angst!' There is a strong need to help people realize the importance of getting in touch with the ACA and taking advantage of all the programs, publications, support, and advocacy that we offer."

Miki Fairley is contributing editor for The O&P EDGE and a freelance writer based in southwest Colorado. She can be contacted via e-mail at  miki.fairley@gmail.com