One afternoon last summer, a team of prosthetic technicians hovered around Adam Taylor as if he were a race car in for a pit stop.
The length of Taylor’s new right leg was off, so a technician rushed away to shorten it at a pipe cutter. An additional fabric liner was added to Taylor’s residual limb. But it was too tight, so the additional liner was removed to allow better suction for the prosthesis. Another technician knelt on the floor, fiddling with the alignment of the new foot.
When Taylor’s leg was fitted and he had on a new pair of Nikes, Chris Kort, owner of Prosthetics in Motion, based in Manhattan, pointed him to a wheelchair for the 60-foot trip to a parallel bar walkway. “Why can’t we walk there?” Taylor asked, with a mix of urgency and agitation.
At the end of the five-hour appointment, Taylor (36) walked out of the office on two legs, joining the ranks of thousands of New Yorkers who use artificial limbs to help them get around in a city that prides itself on walking and more walking.
More than 4,000 amputations were recorded in the city during 2014, according to the most recent data from the New York State Health Department. Nationally, statistics indicate that more than half of all amputations are a result of vascular disease, often a complication of diabetes. About 45% are a result of trauma and less than 2% are, like Taylor’s, because of cancer. All in, about 2 million Americans live with amputations.
The sight of a high-tech carbon-fibre lower leg peeking out from a pair of shorts is increasingly common in New York. But what sets apart Taylor’s situation is that the operation to remove his right leg below the knee was elective.
Taylor chose to amputate to gain a more active life.
For much of his life, Taylor struggled to walk. As a teenager, he had gaping wounds on his feet from a rare skin disease, linear scleroderma, constricting his right ankle with scar tissue. Several years ago, a wound appeared on his leg and never healed. Cancer developed.
Last February, doctors were confident surgery would remove the cancer, but when it did not, he was presented with two options: drastic reconstructive surgery or amputation.
“We went from 5 mph to 100 mph overnight,” he said, referring to the sudden need for a life-changing decision.
Even though amputation seemed extreme, Taylor, a product manager at Verizon, committed to exploring it and reconstructive surgery.
“How do you shower?” Taylor recalled wondering. “Do you have your prosthetic on all day? Do you sleep with it on? I really had no idea.”
Now — nine months after the amputation and five months after his prosthetic fitting — Taylor is back on two feet. To measure his progress, he recalls what his right foot had permitted him to do, which was not much. When a friend came to visit New York two years ago, it was Taylor’s wife who walked around the city with him while Taylor stayed home.
But when someone else came to visit a few weeks ago, Taylor walked more than 2 miles, four times the distance he had been limited to previously.