Recreational Support Groups are Important for Amputees

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By Robert D. Haas

It is hard to express the feelings of shock and despair I felt waking up in a hospital after my leg had been amputated without warning or mental preparation on July 3, 2012, at the Cincinnati Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center, Ohio. My first thoughts were about how the loss of my leg would impact my future and the fulfillment of my dreams. Prior to my amputation, I was very active. I had been a collegiate swimmer and had a 27-year military career. I was an entrepreneur, volunteer, and more. I wondered if the life I knew was over.

After three more surgeries over the next two weeks I was transferred to the Chillicothe VA Medical Center, Ohio, for rehabilitation. It was there that I finally had contact with another individual with an amputation-the only amputee contact I had for the first six months of my journey. He answered my questions and concerns about living with limb loss.

While recuperating and after returning home, I searched out and found amputee support groups, but there weren't any local groups that encouraged activities for people with amputations, much less urged amputees to get up and use their prostheses. These situations led me to create a new kind of support group to provide peer visits to new amputees as well as recreational activities. I didn't want anyone who had lost a limb ever to lay in a hospital bed without access to another amputee for moral and physical support. I wanted others to have access to an amputee support group whose members motivate each other to use their prostheses, to try something new while safely surrounded by friends and fellow amputees, and to resume their active participation within the community.

The Amputee Recreational Support Group of Central Ohio (ARSGOCO) encourages individuals with amputations to rebuild their self-confidence, self-esteem, and ambulatory skills through moderate recreational and social activities, and to find support with other "pro-active" amputees. ARSGOCO specifically provides recreation rather than sports. Recreation activities are leisurely activities done just for fun that should be an essential part of any wellness or recovery program. It was important to me that there was a resource for people to be recreationally active even if they weren't interested in participating in team sports. Recreation doesn't require the skill, structure, or competition usually associated with sports. We encourage participation at any activity level, age, or experience by offering activities in a relaxed, safe, nondemanding setting. Aside from promoting physical activity, ARSGOCO provides fellowship among members. We take nature walks and yoga classes; visit museums; go cycling, fishing, waterskiing, and geocaching; play croquet and sitting/standing volleyball; practice archery; and take part in most other community activities. In addition, ARSGOCO's Amputees Helping Amputees program encourages its members to befriend other amputees in local hospitals and rehabilitation facilities. It is a buddy system based on a recreational-wellness approach to provide positive peer pressure and encouragement.

We reach individuals who might benefit from our group activities by using local media to showcase our events, networking with prosthetists and other amputee support groups, and attending regional and national amputee gatherings.

Support groups are vital services that provide amputees with moral support and answers to common questions about adjusting to life with limb loss. Amputee-to-amputee friendship and companionship helps a new amputee to accept his or her limb loss as the new normal-not as an end to his or her normal life, but rather the beginning of a new journey full of possibility.

Robert Haas is a retired (service-connected) U.S. Navy Supply Corps Commander and an entrepreneur. ARSGOCO is a member of the Amputee Coalition's support group network. To learn more about ARSGOCO, visit www.arsgoco.org, or contact Robert Haas at 614.288.5105 or