Hope for the new year: Shawn Levi, a local amputee, says he wants ‘A new life. A new start. A new outlook.’Written by Brandi Barhite | Associate Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
It was hard for Shawn Levi to enjoy the holidays.
A workplace injury two and a half years ago resulted in a below-the-knee amputation of his left leg Oct. 30.
Just a few weeks ago, he was still in the nursing home, Heartland of Oregon, with a tiny Christmas tree sitting on his nightstand.
He struggled getting dressed. He could barely use the bathroom. He feared using the steps.
But 2014 is going to be better.
It has to be.
The new year brings his 30th birthday on Jan. 15. While most people don’t look forward to the big 3-0, he is craving the milestone. He wants to leave behind the past 29 years.
“A new life. A new start. A new outlook.”
That is what he hopes for himself.
“I want to be born again. I want to have a new outlook on life and not be so negative,” he said.
For Shawn this will be hard. He grew up in foster care, was eventually adopted and then left home after high school. He has two children he hasn’t been able to see, but hopes to change that in the new year if he gets to a better place in his life.
He also wants a job.
Shawn has had jobs here and there, including Taco Bell, but he has never had a career. He is interested in police work, but a suicide attempt will most likely keep him from that occupation. He would possibly like to be trained to work with computers.
He even lived at the Cherry Street Mission until a friend, Mike Terry, invited him to stay at his house.
“I still haven’t really swallowed this. I still haven’t mourned the loss of half of my leg. A lot of people tell me it is like losing a family member.”
Shawn said he was working as a temp at Precision Steel Services on June 14, 2011, when he lifted a steel beam.
“I lifted it over my head not knowing it was cut. As soon as I got it over my head, which was 6 to 7 feet in the air, a piece snapped off and the remainder hit my knee and smashed my foot.”
Shawn went to the ER, but was sent home thinking his foot was bruised and his big toe was broken. A few days later, his foot started to swell even worse and he developed cellulitis from the tip of his toes all the way up his leg. He was put on antibiotics, but had an allergic reaction.
Meanwhile, he felt his foot “explode,” he said, and it started to arch. Out of necessity, he started to walk on the outside of his left foot. “I couldn’t feel it,” he said.
He would do this for more than two years, gaining 100 pounds from inactivity.
Sometimes he wishes he still had his bad leg because then he could at least get around better. But he knows the amputation was the right choice. He has already lost 50 pounds since the surgery.
“I just wish it didn’t take so long. I don’t know why it has been two and a half years,” he said.
While Shawn doesn’t want to discuss any possible legal action, he is receiving workers’ compensation and is thankful that everything has been covered. He is also glad he found Dr. Gregory Georgiadis.
“He is an amazing doctor. I finally found a doctor who really cared about the situation and handled it. I was reading a prosthesis book, and he said, ‘This could be what you have.’ I was like, ‘OK.’”
Obviously, no one wants to lose a limb, but Shawn said at least his amputation was below the knee, which will make using a prosthetic limb a little easier. He should be fit for one when his post-surgery infection clears up.
“There are days when I am still here and no one is here and you wish you had people coming up here because it is so boring,” he said, while at the nursing home.
In December, he called his biological mother in Tennessee. From afar, she feels for him, although she has no plans to visit.
“It really does hurt to see a son hurt so badly,” Carol Cummings said. “How can you be positive when things are so negative?”
He has had some visitors. His adopted family, from whom he had been estranged for six years, is among them.
“When I was in the hospital after the amputation, my adopted brother, Jeremy Dobie, came walking in the door. I was like, ‘Hey bro, what is going on?’
“We are all talking again and I am pretty happy about that.”
Dobie said it was shocking to find out his brother was going to lose his leg and it put everything into perspective.
“I am definitely glad that I have gotten the chance to make things a little bit better between us,” Dobie said. “He seems to be pretty positive about the whole situation.”
Shawn has also experienced an outpouring of love from a local family, his main support system.
Shawn and Mike worked together at McDonald’s as teenagers, although they were not good friends then. Mike’s mom, Barb Farley, remembers bringing them pizza when they got tired of eating McDonald’s.
“One day Mike said, ‘Remember that guy you took pizza to at McDonald’s? He is in trouble. He is living at the Cherry Street Mission,’” Barb said. “He had an accident and lost everything he had: his rental, his car and everything in storage.
“I said, ‘we have to get him out of there,’ and my son went to get him, and Shawn has never left.”
Since then, Shawn has lived with Mike at his rental house, along with two other roommates. They are willing to revamp the house to include an extra rail or set up accommodations in the bathroom. But since the first floor doesn’t have a bathroom or bedroom, Mike said they want to move in January or February to find something that works better for Shawn.
“We have been in close quarters for a long time and everyone has moments where we don’t get along, but I look at him like a brother and that is what brothers do sometimes,” Mike said.
Like brothers, he even managed to bring some levity to the situation just a few days after surgery. Both are Buckeyes fans, so Mike drew an “O” on the bottom of Shawn’s new red cast and added a real pair of sunglasses.
“My mom has a big heart — sometimes too big — and I inherit that from her,” Mike said.
He remembers running into Shawn around town as adults, and then one day Shawn called him about throwing a birthday party at his house because he was living at the shelter. Mike agreed. That weekend, he told him, “Dude, you don’t have to go back there.”
Cherry Street Mission president and CEO Dan Rogers said it is rare for people to “rescue” clients from the shelter. Actually, it is usually in their best interest to stay and get the help they need, whether that is with a job or substance abuse.
The best way to support a friend or family member at the Cherry Street Mission is to send them a care package, eat dinner with them or participate in a shelter event. But sometimes friends and family find out someone is living at the shelter and that person is ready to leave and that is a great situation, he said.
“He has just had a horrible life,” Barb said. “It makes me cry. I couldn’t imagine having him go through everything he had to go through without a mom standing by. I told him to program me in his phone as ‘Mom 2.’”
Mike is happy to share his mother.
“A lot of his family isn’t around here and hasn’t been involved as much as I think they should be.”
Shawn’s amputation is just the beginning of a series of surgeries he needs. Because he walked sideways on his foot, the remaining part of his leg is twisted. He also has two bulging discs in his back.
Soon he will be fitted for his prosthetic leg and taught how to use it. The moment he feels comfortable using his new leg, he knows exactly what he wants to do.
“Run, mow the lawn, take out the garbage without worrying about falling down,” he said with a huge smile on his face.
His list also includes skiing, being on a boat and “just being around people socially and not having people stare at me every time I go in a store,” he said.
The stares have been hard.
“When people are out of the norm, walk differently or have a drooping eye, it is amazing to see how people look at them,” Shawn said. “I ignore the situation, but it still upsets me. I keep my mouth shut and hop on.”
Barb has tried to reassure him.
“When people look at you, they see your eyes. They see everything through your eyes; it has nothing to do with your limbs,” she told him.
Roberta Cone, a psychologist and advisory committee member of the national Amputee Coalition, said people stare because, “Yes, we are different.”
She lost her arm in an automobile accident more than a decade ago.
“I have had an extraordinary life, but there are challenges and you are different. There is a period of relearning things.”
The psychologist said it helps to know that “you are so much more than your appearance.”
She said limb loss is equated to losing a loved one and no one should discount that. The best advice she can give is: “Seek the help of support groups and find meaning in your loss.”
When Shawn is down and doesn’t think he will be able to work again, Barb is the one who supports him. She thinks he should volunteer first to see what might interest him.
“I want to start a charity to help injured workers out,” Shawn said. “It is a long road if you don’t have anyone. It is very depressing. I don’t know how I pulled through what I went through.”
But he has.
“It is amazing. I have had a rough road my entire life, but somewhere I still find the spirit to keep pushing and keep going.”
Tags: amputation, Buckeyes, Carol Cummings, CEO Dan Rogers, Cherry Street Mission, Christmas tree, Dr. Gregory Georgiadis, Heartland of Oregon, Holidays, McDonald's, Mike Terry, Precision Steel Services, Taco Bell, Tennessee