John Ramoska of Wonder Lake used to be so ashamed of his prosthetic leg that on the hottest of days, he would rather wear jeans than shorts in public.
He wasn’t very open about being an amputee and, for a long time, didn’t want to talk about it unless he knew the person well.
“It’s just an emotional stress ... I didn’t want to tell anybody, because I didn’t want them to know, and I didn’t want questions about it because it would bring me down more,” Ramoska said.
Then a few years ago, while on a church retreat with friends who knew Ramoska was an amputee, he decided to wear shorts. He now is able to wear shorts in public and said he wants to make it easier for his fellow amputees to get on with their lives.
Ramoska has started a support group for amputees, Whole Life Amputee Support, with the idea that one day it will be a place for amputees and their family members to talk about how amputation is affecting their lives.
“It’s been on my mind so long,” the 39-year-old Ramoska said. “[The] main thing that started it off was wanting somebody else to talk to about my issues, my problems, my feelings.”
The mission of Whole Life Amputee Support will be to reach out to amputees in northern Illinois and provide help and support. Support might include talking to another amputee, helping amputees to get to doctors’ appointments or therapy or even financial help.
Amputation can be for any reason, such as diabetes or an injury.
Group organizers say there isn’t any such support group for amputees or their family members in the area.
“The situation of being an amputee is a very lonely situation,” said Sarah Flashing, the group’s vice president. “Amputees have a hard time finding each other, where they could share about their experiences and ... and how to cope with life in a world designed for nonamputees.”
Ramoska, who lost his lower right leg in a motorcycle accident when he was 17, hopes to build a community of amputees who can rely on one another and lean on one another for support and guidance, regardless of circumstances, he said.
Ramoska said amputees can go to counseling, but it wouldn’t be the same as speaking with someone who is in the same situation.
“People don’t understand what you’re going through unless they’re in the same situation,” he said.
Organizers also want to support or help those who are about to be amputees by developing material about what to expect and how to adjust. The material also would offer advice to family members.
“There’s not really anybody there to focus on the point ... and just encourage them, things can be OK and we’re there to help,” Ramoska said.
The group plans to raise money through corporate and individual donations, fundraisers and grants. Money would be used for replacement and repair of prosthetic limbs, counseling for amputees and other things, Ramoska said.
Having the group open to family and friends of amputees is important. Organizers said some people might have a hard time understanding that an amputee with a prosthetic leg might be sore after standing or walking for a while.
After Majorie Maxwell’s husband had a heart attack, he received a booklet of support groups, had cardiac rehab and had someone go over the importance of diet with him, Maxwell said.
After Maxwell, 53, of Richmond, lost part of her leg eight years ago, the same kind of support wasn’t available to her. For example, maintaining a good diet is important for an amputee as well, she said.
“As an amputee, let’s say I gained 20 pounds, I’m not going to fit into my prosthetic,” Maxwell said. “There’s not much out there for amputees.”
Maxwell, who plans to be a part of the group, did have physical therapy after her amputation, where she learned how to get out of cars and take showers.
Being able to share with someone who’s had the same experience is important, Maxwell said.
“You might have a really bad day, the leg’s not fitting right, humidity is making you sweat. You need someone else who understands what you’re going through,” Maxwell said. “They just don’t have a place to go ... and feel comfortable talking about how they’re feeling that day.”