Working with the community... for a healthier community.

Support Group Helps Amputees Get the Most Out of Their Prosthetics


By David Heitz

When someone loses a limb, a prosthetic can restore the independence and mobility an amputee may have feared they forever lost. But living with a prosthetic doesn’t come easy at first. It takes a lot of hard work learning how to use it properly, and people with prosthetics need support and encouragement from fellow amputees. They are finding it with prosthetic support groups in Peoria, Rockford and Springfield. Jerry Tibbs, a 63-year-old farmer who lost both legs below the knee, helped found the Peoria group, also known as the ‘Limbs Up Crew’ last year. It meets the second Friday of the month at the Peoria CPO (Comprehensive Prosthetics and Orthotics) office.

Tibbs lost both of his legs below the knee after lengthy heart surgery resulted in circulatory problems. “I had a lot of visions of me being in a wheelchair the rest of my life, and it literally scared the crap out of me,” Tibbs said upon coming out of the fog of surgery, and realizing he had lost his legs. “I couldn’t work on my farm and do my tractors or feed my goats; or all of the things I wanted to do, so I worked double-triple-extra hard when I got my new legs.”

As a bilateral amputee with prosthetics, Tibbs said he had to learn how to walk all over again. “There’s no balance there. You’ve got to program your mind to do your balance on your legs. It would be like walking on stilts all the time.”

These days, Tibbs tends to his 16-acre farm just as he did before he lost his legs, from changing the oil on his tractor to feeding his goats. He provides inspiration to others in the  Limbs Up Crew who may have just received their prosthetic and are struggling with getting the hang of using it. About 10 people regularly attend the monthly Peoria meeting, Tibbs said, ranging in age from the early 20s to late 70s. The group discusses things such as phantom pains that occur where their limbs used to be, to dealing with excessive sweat from a prosthetic in the summer months. “We try to encourage them that there’s life beyond their amputation,” Tibbs said. “You can still live a normal life.”

They even talk about how to handle stares from people who may be curious about their prosthetic. “If you see them staring at you, you just go up and explain it to them,” Tibbs said. “Kids are really interested. They say, ‘Where did you get those robot legs?’ I tell them I didn’t eat my vegetables when I was a young kid, and that’s how I lost my legs.”

Susan McAllister lost her leg above the knee more than 30 years ago in an accident. She said it took many years for her to get around as well as she does now. She said newcomers to the group often don’t realize that it takes a lot of work to perfect getting the most out of their prosthetic.

“A lot of it is answering questions like, ‘If this is wrong, how do you fix this?’ and ‘Is this normal?’ or “Why is this happening?’” McAllister explained. She said guest speakers regularly visit the Peoria support group. Visitors have included representatives from the Secretary of State’s office to discuss disability driving, experts regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act,  providers of services to make cars handicapped accessible and other speakers encouraging more independence.

“A big part of it is mental,” McAllister said, of living with a prosthetic. “Once (the limb) is gone, you can’t get it back. A doctor may say you will walk normal like before, but it’s never going to be like before.”

Tibbs said for the first four or five weeks, he had to practice walking on his legs every day, plus he attended therapy three times a week. “I remember being really  scared at first. I had no balance unless I was holding on to those bars. You learn to trust your legs. You have to trust your legs.”

Tibbs and McAllister say they have made the most of their amputations by having prosthetics, and could not imagine life without them. “My socket is a socket I kind of designed myself,” Tibbs said. “It has a Farmall print around it. I’m a collector. I say I’m a Farmall man from head to toe.”

CPO has more than 20 locations including offices in Bloomington, as well as the cities where the support groups meet. CPO offers innovation in prosthetics, orthotics, and pedorthics, with compassionate care and attentive customer service. You can learn more about Comprehensive Prosthetics and Orthotics, as well as find a directory of all of their locations, at; or call them for more information at 309-283-0880.

Photo courtesy of Comprehensive Prosthetics and Orthotics