QUEENS, New York, June 7, 2019 – Makeva B. sits comfortably in her bedroom, but her thoughts are miles away on a beach in the Bahamas. She’s planning a cruise with her best friend, three children, and her niece. It will be Makeva’s first time not only out on a ship in the open ocean but also finding her balance on unstable ground as a double amputee.
Still, she’s ready for it. Makeva prepares to pack her new set of “water legs” – specially molded prostheses designed for swimming- which she’ll carry in a beach bag and switch out with her everyday prostheses before she goes in the water.
As Makeva looks forward to her trip, she thinks back on how far she’s come. She laughs as she recalls her first prostheses, a much larger set that helped her regain her balance, which she lovingly refers to as her “Big Momma legs”. Then there was that time in the grocery store parking lot where she lost her balance in the snow; her feet flew out from under her and her prosthesis went flying in the air.
“Excuse me sir,” she said to a bystander, “can you pass me my leg please?”
Makeva giggles at the memory. These awkward moments seem to slide ride off of her, and instead of creating bitterness, inspire joy and light-heartedness.
“If stuff happens, it’s better to laugh than cry,” she says.
And Makeva has had plenty of reasons to cry over the last two years, but she has four big reasons she continues to choose laughter: her kids and her niece.
We sat down to speak with her about her family and her health journey.
What was your health journey before coming to Progressive O&P?
For most of my life I considered myself a healthy person, battling weight loss as an adult, but nothing more severe than that. Everything changed on February 16, 2017. The week leading up to that fateful day I had flu-like symptoms. I decided to drive myself to the hospital when things didn’t seem to be improving. That’s when I had a heart attack and went into cardiac arrest for sixty minutes. They revived me after I coded on the table and put me into a medically induced coma for two weeks in order to recover. When I finally regained consciousness, I learned that blood wasn’t circulating to my feet properly, and that I had an infection that was attacking my body. The doctors were unable to stop it.
I was faced with an impossible decision that I barely recall making: becoming a double amputee. I do remember the doctor coming into my hospital room the morning of the surgery though.
“Today is the day,” he said.
“The day for what?” I replied.
That time was such a blur. Of course, I had discussed the surgery with my doctor and given my consent, but had I really agreed to a procedure that would leave me without both of my legs? I was a whirlwind of emotions and there was not enough time to process them all. I looked around at my family that had gathered there and thought my life was over.
How did you come to Progressive O&P?
My physical recovery from the surgery went great; I healed quickly. Emotionally, I struggled to even get out of bed. I couldn’t stay there though because I was the primary caregiver of three kids from the ages of four to seventeen at the time. I remember how confused my youngest daughter was.
“I just want you to have your feet back mom.”
I had to be strong for them. So, two weeks after successfully completing rehab, my vascular surgeon recommended Progressive O&P.
What was your first visit to Progressive O&P like?
My initial visit to Progressive O&P was informative and personable. Dan Bastian and his staff immediately made me feel like part of the family; they kindly answered my questions, handled insurance details and made my comfort a priority.
Dan is an amputee himself, and it was the first time I had ever talked to another amputee. I appreciated that he could relate to what I was going through. I was comfortable trusting him with my recovery.
What goals did you set for your recovery?
When I met with Dan, I told him it was my goal to walk into the upcoming graduation of my two youngest children from Pre-K and Elementary School. That was just a couple months away. Even though I was still battling depression, I had something important to work towards. So Dan got me fitted for my first set of prostheses.
I remember the first time I saw them.
“Oh my gosh, where am I going with these big old legs?!”
I couldn’t believe these “Big Momma legs” were for me; they looked so out of place! But it was necessary to start with a larger size in order to regain my stability with the use of a walker. Over time, the swelling would go down and I would get a smaller size.
Although I still needed a wheelchair going into my daughter Kiara’s graduation, those big legs did help me stand proud for a picture with her in her cap and gown. And two weeks later, I met my goal when I walked into my youngest daughter Rylee’s graduation ceremony. I’ll never forget the smiles on my kid’s faces that day.
Who would you consider to be part of your team?
My team includes my parents, Wanda and Arthur, my children, Rylee (age 7), Kiara (age 13) and Jaylan (age 19), my niece Simyra (age 16), and my best friend Monique. They have supported me immensely since my diagnosis and surgery.
Dan and Rob from Progressive O&P are also an important part of my team.
How have things changed in your home and with your family since your surgery
After my surgery, I had to make some adjustments in order to regain my independence. Thankfully, my new house needed very minor alterations: just a new bench in my shower so I could easily move in and out of my wheelchair. The kids also pitched in more, cleaning up after I prepared dinner for example, but I tried to keep their burden light by continuing to do the majority of the housework myself.
Getting behind the wheel was my next hurdle. I thought it was hilarious that my oldest son and I were both learning to drive at the same time, Jaylan, a teenager and new to the game, and me relearning with my prostheses. With some help from my aunt and an empty parking lot, I managed to safely teach myself to drive without the use of hand gears. It was amazing!
What hasn’t changed?
I can still talk smack! Haha. I don’t mind when people have questions about my prostheses or my health journey, but every once in a while I’ll run into that rare rude person at the grocery store that asks insensitive questions. Luckily, my mouth is right where it’s always been and I usually have a good comeback response.
Any future goals?
I’ve regained my mobility and there’s not much I can’t do. I’m able to stand and walk for longer periods of time and I’m looking forward to trying out my new “water legs” in the Bahamas.
I’ve gone through four or five sets of prostheses and have ditched my “Big Mamma legs”, but I would still like to loose a bit more weight to get down to a smaller set.