Last week, January 3rd to be exact, I embarked upon a new and exciting journey. After 13 years in a marketing and design career I decided to join forces with Allard USA in their mission: Support for a better life.
This decision to join the Allard team professionally was not an easy one for me since I am so personally connected to this company. If you read the first installment of this blog you know the story of how I came to use their products, but you may not understand the roller coaster of emotions that goes along with my experience.
I won't go into the details in this post, but very briefly, after 38 years of leading a very active, athletic life I found myself sidelined by major spinal trauma and nerve damage as a result of my injuries. As tough as this was physically, I could not foresee the emotional toll my new reality would impose.
I had just been through major spinal surgery and after a very long summer of healing, trying to get back to work full-time and trying to spend more time in "my world" and less time in doctors' offices I was finally reclaiming my life. There was one thing that was keeping me from a complete comeback though and that was a condition called "foot drop." In a nutshell, foot drop (or drop foot) is a medical term for the inability to lift your foot from the ankle joint causing an awkward walk, or "steppage gait", which causes a person to trip and fall often.
I had never even heard of foot drop, nor of the AFO's (Ankle-Foot-Orthoses) they prescribe to "treat" the condition until it happened to me. Little did I know then that in the next few years I would become an unexpected expert on the subject, and here's what the medical description of foot drop doesn't tell you:
You will fall with foot drop. Despite any brace you use, you will trip on a regular basis. You will no longer be able to wear most of the shoes you could wear before having foot drop, and thus, your wardrobe will have to change. You will suffer the sensation of constant "pins and needles" in your foot if you're lucky, and a chronic burning pain if you're one of the not-so-fortunate cases. You will never be able to take "normal" mobility for granted again. You will have extreme cramping in your legs on a regular basis. In most cases, this cramping will keep you from getting the sleep you need each night. You may not be able to do the things you did before acquiring foot drop: walking to the kitchen without falling, playing soccer, returning to active combat in the military, chasing after grandchildren... whatever may been an important part of your life before may now be an impossible hurdle to maneuver. Your life will change and most likely you will suffer some level of depression as you come to grips with your new reality. Your self-image will be challenged and this will affect your identity as you once perceived it. You may be labelled as handicapped. People will see you differently.
What I have just described is the reality of living with foot drop, and yet I have learned that there are ways to overcome each and every challenge. I have also learned that this is not an easy task and it takes perseverance, imagination and time to navigate the rehabilitation minefields. There are millions of people just like me. My case was caused by permanent paralysis of my peroneal nerve due to eventual complications from birth defects, but there are so many more causes: Multiple sclerosis, stroke, diabetes, spinal- or leg-trauma, neuropathy, cerebral palsy... and many more. The condition affects the very old, the very young and does not discriminate between race, ethnicity, gender or socio-economic demographics. It is a well-known, common condition and yet the technology/systems for treating foot drop lag behind the technology for treating amputees and many cases of paralysis.
In my personal journey I learned that despite amazing and talented professionals working to improve the lives of those with foot drop, there is a major disconnect in the health care system. I was relentless in my own pursuit of getting my life back, no small part of which was returning to marathoning, but it took so much effort and a span of 2 years to do so. Inspired by a Japanese proverb I saw somewhere, "Fall 7 times, Get up 8" I was determined to find something that returned me to the quality of life I had before my injury... and that something was one of Allard USA's braces, the ToeOFF. The ToeOFF literally changed my life, and I couldn't believe that although it had been around for years I was not able to access it before then. I've been wearing it ever since and returned to marathoning, even running the Boston marathon 3 times with foot drop. I was given this amazing gift of being able to take mobility for granted once again.
I'm not telling you this to tell you how great I am, but rather how grateful I am to be at this point in my journey. So many people with foot drop have not been so lucky, and now I want to give back... to be a part of the solution. My mission with Allard now is to raise awareness, to connect with other people with foot drop and to learn about their experiences. Together we have to find a way to connect our physicians with our orthotists and with our physical therapists and our insurance companies to get the right technology to the right people.
The raw truth is that foot drop, as unsexy as it sounds, has shattered people's lives. It has severed careers, catalyzed depression and complicated relationships for those who are forced to live with it.
And that's the reason for this blog and my new mission for 2012, to inspire and assist others to GET BACK UP.
In pursuit of these goals I am planning to run in 20 Rock-n-Roll Half marathons across the US this year as an ambassador for Allard USA and on behalf of those who can't. I hope to raise awareness of the challenges of foot drop and to promote the resources and those professionals already out there working towards finding real-life solutions.
Please join me, let me know who you are and how foot drop or similar paralysis/deficit has affected your life. Whatever your situation, please know that all of us have the strength within us to GET BACK UP TODAY.