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Months after a motorcycle crash, Andrew reflects on his healing journey and living with limb loss

Andrew Lawlor with physiotherapist Vera Fung

“The Saturday afternoon I became an unwitting participant in a crash,” says Andrew Lawlor, 51, of Unionville, Ontario. “I remember I kissed my wife as I dropped her off at the spa. Apparently then, I got back into my jeep, drove home and headed out on my motorcycle.”

Andrew says ‘apparently’ because he doesn’t remember much else about that day in July 2018.

He was admitted to Sunnybrook. “The teams in trauma and in critical care did surgeries to treat the many fractures in my arms and pelvis, and later did procedures to repair serious nerve injuries in my right shoulder,” he says. His left leg was badly mangled in the crash, and he had to undergo a transfemoral [above-knee] amputation.

After three months in the intensive care unit and critical care, the writer and father of two boys gained more support from team members — including physiatrist Dr. Amanda Mayo and prosthetist David Smith — during his rehabilitation stay at St. John’s Rehab.

He is continuing therapy there on a weekly basis. Physiotherapist Vera Fung (above) is teaching him how to walk, and she is helping with conditioning, strengthening and flexibility. This will help prepare him for the positions and posture he will eventually need to walk with a lower-extremity prosthesis.

Occupational therapist John Cho (below) generally helps patients with upper body exercises and functional-related range of motion for lifting, reaching overhead, carrying, pushing and pulling. He is working with Andrew on improved range of motion in his right shoulder and arm, flexibility in the wrist and dexterity in the fingers.

Occupational therapist John Cho and Andrew Lawlor

Below, Andrew talks about his healing journey and living with limb loss:

What has helped you cope in your journey so far?

It’s Day 264 since the crash. Keeping track of the days helps me stay focused. I’ve had a lot of help. I awoke on August 19 and my wife, Lesley had already put up things in my room and she knows I’m goal oriented. She thought: ‘let’s put a list on the wall and let’s work towards those goals.’ Lesley really helped shape the plan with me, together with my care team.

Healing is a community exercise, whether your community is one, or three, or a whole town. We live in a tight-knit community in Unionville. On the Tuesday morning after the crash, Lesley found a homemade casserole on our front porch with an unsigned note that simply read: Because I had to do something. To this day, we don’t know who did this kind gesture, but we are forever grateful. There was a groundswell of support in our community led by amazing friends. People started an online campaign to send us well wishes and encouragement.

Support came from individuals, sports leagues and businesses in Unionville. A local grocer helped the boys stay healthy throughout the crisis, and a group of friends pitched in to buy us snow plowing for the winter.

Sometimes ‘what can I do to help?’ or ‘let me know if I can help’ can turn into action — that if there is something I can do to help, I can think to do it — and that’s what many of our friends and the community did for us.

What do you have a greater appreciation for?

My family has always been important to me, and yet, I have gained an even deeper appreciation for them.

All the things you might take for granted as an unencumbered, fully capable person — the seemingly easy things — you now don’t take for granted. I can’t drive, so simply getting milk at the corner store becomes a plan. Yes, it puts a dent in your freedoms, but you learn to adapt.

I have also found that my focus has been much better. I’m me. I’m a dad. I’m a husband, son, friend, boss, worker — I am all of these. When those things have the possibility of being stripped away, it brings your focus to a pretty fine point. Right now, I have one job to do, and that’s to get better. And I’m fortunate because I know not everyone has that opportunity to focus on that one job.

I’ve also learned perspective. When I first got to St. John’s Rehab, both my arms were in casts. It took five members of the team to move me out of a bed. They brought me in to therapy one day, and this young man says to me: Don’t worry. They’ll take good care of you. Here is this young man with third degree burns helping me by saying that everything’s going to be okay.

I have great respect for this young man who showed and shared such courage.

I have also learned self-advocacy — to be involved, to be engaged in my health care and in how the rehab teams support my continued healing.

Even now, I try to come early to therapy, so I can talk to others living with limb loss — to connect with them about what they’re doing, how they are doing, and getting in contact with guys ahead of me to ask, ‘how do you do it?, ‘what works for you?’

What would you want the community at large to understand about living with limb loss?

I am the first amputee I’ve ever met… and I don’t know how I would react. Everyone generally has good intentions. It’s in our nature to want to help, and to want to be supportive.

We are all our own unique experience — as is the case too, for people living with limb loss or limb difference. I’ve developed my own ‘icebreaker’ mechanism. When I meet someone for the first time, I try to make eye contact and to speak early, offering a connective comment. That approach often helps diffuse any tensions or misperceptions that may be forming.

For me, I am now part of the community of individuals living with limb loss. If I met another individual, I’d want to share and exchange stories and experiences. But only if the individual was open to it.

It’s back to that idea of giving back. I’d like to do what I can to help others, going through their own journey. One of the messages Lesley put on my wall from day one still resonates with me — it’s a quote from the author Max Lucado:

The key is this: Meet today’s problems with today’s strength. Don’t start tackling tomorrow’s problems until tomorrow. You do not have tomorrow’s strength yet. You simply have enough for today.

About the author

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Natalie Chung-Sayers

Natalie Chung-Sayers is Sunnybrook's Communications Advisor for the Holland Bone and Joint Program and the St. John's Rehab Program.

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