An Amputee’s Motto for Mobility May: It’s Never Too Late

Suzanne St. Germain’s path back to mobility began in a supermarket checkout line.

St. Germain’s teenage daughter, who works part-time at the store, bagged up the groceries one day for a shopper who was wearing a prosthetic leg. “Ever seen one of these before?” the customer asked cheerfully. 

“Uh, yeah,” the young checkout clerk replied. “My mom has two.”

The customer was Tom Carlson, an amputee support-group leader and networker par excellence. He handed over his business card and said, “Have your mom call me.” Next thing you know, St. Germain was besties with Carlson’s girlfriend, Kim Mylinski. “And when I went to Tom and Kim’s wedding,” St. Germain says, “Dave Rotter came over to my table and said, ‘Come see me on Monday. I think we can get you walking again.’”

Until she met Rotter, one of the nation’s top prosthetists, St. Germain had given up hope that she’d ever walk again. At that point she had only been a bilateral amputee for about a year—she lost her left leg through the knee in 2018 due to diabetes and her right leg in 2020 due to recurring infections. During this period St. Germain also had two heart attacks and developed kidney disease. And a bad experience with her first prosthetist left her demoralized.

“The prosthetic was so heavy, it didn’t feel like part of my body,” she says. “They just told me to get some physical therapy somewhere.” St. Germain threw the legs in the closet and shut the door. “My mindset was like, ‘I’m going to be in this wheelchair the rest of my life,’” she recalls. “I didn’t think there was anything else out there for me.”

Rotter and his team got her to believe in a better outcome. But it didn’t happen overnight. It took St. Germain at least a year before she started to feel confident about her mobility.

“At first it was very difficult for me to even stand up,” she says. “I kept practicing, but I didn’t believe it was ever really going to happen.” But St. Germain set aside her skepticism because Rotter and his physical therapy partner, Kristin Liebl, convinced her the effort would pay off. And they won her trust by taking her concerns seriously and offering flexible, targeted solutions that work for her.

“They listen to what I have to say,” St. Germain says. “I can text Dave at any time of day, and he’ll answer me back.”

She also found encouragement by connecting with other patients at Rotter’s clinic—especially an elderly fellow named Jake who, like St. Germain, is a bilateral amputee. “He’s 75 or 80 years old,” she says, “and once you get to that age, you don’t always want to fight as hard, because you’ve basically lived your life.” Jake’s persistence rubbed off on her. He took pride in her progress, and they’ve spurred each other on. 

St. Germain’s long-range goal is to set her wheelchair aside altogether and walk independently. She has a long way to go, but the path forward is clear. She spends time on her feet every day, walking with a cane from room to room at home. She completed a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and has started working on a master’s. And she wants to bring hope to other amputees who believe they’ll never walk again.

“The amount of work you have to put into it is just crazy,” St. Germain says. “But there’s a community of people who know what you’re going through and who you can bounce ideas off of. If it wasn’t for people like them encouraging me, and me encouraging them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

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