Former Bull Rider Takes Recovery by the Reins
June 2018 Issue
Kyle Hannon was 29 years old and working as a railroad switchman at a steel mill in Richmond, Virginia, on the morning of September 15, 2014. He was about to switch out full rail cars with empty ones at a point where two sets of train tracks run parallel to each other. He remembers hearing the train as it approached from behind, but he didn't realize he was on the same track. The train struck him and immediately thrust him under the wheels. "I did my best to keep the rest of my body from getting pinned under the wheels, but I was dragged about 50 yards," says Hannon, who remained conscious despite losing a large amount of blood.
He underwent bilateral transfemoral amputations as a result of the accident, leaving his residual femurs so short (roughly one inch in length on his left side and about three inches on his right side) that his physicians told him it was unlikely he could use prostheses. However, Hannon, who is a former bull rider, had a strong desire to regain mobility. "My wife, Samantha, was about to give birth to our first child," he says. "Our daughter was the biggest motivation for me to get up and get back to normal. I wanted to be a good father."
Thirteen days after his accident, Hannon's daughter was born in the same hospital where he was beginning his recovery and rehabilitation.
A Challenging Fit
While Hannon was still in the hospital, he spoke with a local prosthetist who treated several patients with bilateral transfemoral amputations, but none with residual limbs as short as Hannon's. Hannon says being told by the physicians that he may not be able to wear prostheses was a blessing. "That drove us to look for something more," he says.
Hannon's family began researching prosthetic options, which led them to YouTube videos by business partners Randy Richardson, CPA, RPA, and Chad Simpson, BOCP, LP, of Dream Team Prosthetics, Duncan, Oklahoma.
"[Samantha] asked Randy numerous questions about how functional Kyle would be…and what exercises he could start doing prior to being fit with prosthetics," says Simpson.
Richardson was honest about the difficulty for people with short residual limbs using prostheses as well as the challenge to maintain the suspension of the prostheses. "We explained to Kyle and his family that the first priority would be to fit him with sockets to see if it was possible to lock them on securely to his limbs," says Simpson, who was able to fit Hannon with sockets, foreshortened prostheses or stubbies, and custom-made small platform feet, which are attached directly to the end of the prostheses. "This lowers his center of gravity, so he is able to balance much easier," Simpson says. "It also reduces the stress on his limbs so that over a period of months, his limbs can acclimate to being inside of prosthetic sockets while providing him stability to learn to walk again."
By late February 2015, Hannon was wearing his first pair of stubbies and learning to walk, Simpson says. "For all my patients with bilateral above-knee limb loss, providing them with stubby feet is a priority," he says. "Not only are they critical for success initially, but they are a functional and efficient tool for many different activities."
Hannon says his stubbies have helped him to stay active doing everything from yardwork to kayaking. Hannon also has the Ottobock X3 knees and Triton HD feet, which are waterproof, Simpson says. He also has the Ottobock 3S80 hydraulic running knees and running blades. "With the extremely short residual limbs, the fact that Kyle can run at all is a testament to his internal determination and drive," Simpson says.
No Adaptive Equipment, Please
While Hannon was still in the early stages of learning to use his stubbies, he asked about driving without adaptive devices once he received his full-length prostheses, Simpson says.
Hannon was so determined not to use adaptive equipment while driving that he rode with other people with bilateral transfemoral amputations to see how it was done.
To help him drive, Dream Team Prosthetics developed programming for Hannon's knee that only allows it to bend to a predetermined position, which keeps his foot in position, so he can use his right leg for the gas pedal and the brake, Simpson says. Ottobock's Cockpit app lets Hannon change the angle of his knee if he uses another vehicle where the pedals are not at the same distance, Simpson says. "Kyle can adjust the angle of the leg so he has safe clearance between the gas and brake pedals," he says. "We have been setting up our bilateral above-knee patients with a driving mode in their C-Legs long before the X3 knee was introduced."
Richardson agrees. "Our work with creating innovative prosthetic designs and training protocols for individuals with bilateral lower-extremity limb loss has been our focus in both our careers," he says.
It Takes a Team
Peer support is a critical component of successful rehabilitation outcomes for people with bilateral transfemoral amputations and Hannon's case is no exception. "It takes a team on all ends," says Hannon, who now works in IT. "Randy, Chad, the peer support—also back home I have my team. If one day I'm not wanting to wear my prosthetics, my wife will tell me she's not having it."
None of Hannon's peers have been as instrumental in his recovery as Seth Alexander and Hayden Bailey. Both men have bilateral transfemoral amputations and have helped Hannon see and experience what is possible as a full-time prosthesis user. Alexander says he could tell Hannon was apprehensive about using the stubbies when they first met. "But I could tell he had a good head on his shoulders, and I knew he was going to do okay," says Alexander, who competed with Hannon in the Endeavor Games last year.
Alexander says what he has offered Hannon as a peer mentor and a friend is support and encouragement. "You don't want to feel like you're the only person in the world without legs," he says.
Alexander and Hannon are also peer mentors in the Dream Team Prosthetic's Bilateral Life Camp, an annual event that brings people with transfemoral amputations worldwide together for a unique hands-on, informative experience on how to thrive with bilateral limb loss. The next life camp will be held June 11-14 in Duncan. A second Bilateral Life Camp will be held at the Amputee Coalition National Conference July 12-14 in Tucson, Arizona.
Determined to Accomplish More
Since Hannon has had his prostheses, he hasn't let much slow him down. He hasn't used a wheelchair since March 2015. He wears his prostheses about 14 hours per day, and he carries his daughter and his newborn son in his arms.
Not only has Hannon risen to meet his challenges, Simpson has also been able to grow and learn as a prosthetist. "With the challenges of fitting Kyle, it has enabled me as a clinician to develop new skills and techniques that not only help me fit Kyle, but other patients with challenging situations."
Hannon's positive attitude has never faded—not even in the intense heat and humidity of an Oklahoma summer. At Dream Team's Bilateral Life Camp last July, Hannon, Alexander, and several other participants hiked three miles in the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge under a sweltering sun. "I think Kyle will probably agree that was the most difficult thing he has done since losing his legs," Simpson says. "But he powered through it like he does every day. He's a great example of inner strength and determination, and he is a key peer mentor for others with multiple limb loss."
Betta Ferrendelli can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.