Freddie's Story

Freddie Martinez stands in front of a window using his crutch to balance while wearing his prosthetic left leg.

As a husband, father of four and digital forensics expert, 51-year-old Freddie Martinez had a busy, fulfilling life. When he wasn’t helping coach his kids’ sports teams, he enjoyed the outdoors and spending time with his large extended family.

Life threw a curveball at Freddie when he came down with group A strep, a type of bacteria that can cause skin, soft tissue and respiratory infections. The infection caused a case of necrotizing fasciitis, or flesh-eating bacteria – a rare and life-threatening infection – on his lower left leg. Over several weeks, Freddie underwent four debridement surgeries where doctors removed dead and infected tissue in order to save his leg.

Unfortunately, Freddie’s infection persisted. Doctors determined the best option to stop the spread was an above-the-knee amputation. Four days after his surgery, Freddie arrived at Cleveland Clinic Rehabilitation Hospital, Avon – the first of two stays to help him regain mobility and eventually, resume his life.

During his first stint at Avon, Freddie’s physician-led team of nurses, physical therapists and occupational therapists focused on wound care and improving his strength and endurance. It prepared him for his prosthesis. Physical therapists worked with Freddie stretching and strengthening his core and right leg. He did a range of exercises while laying on his stomach and side. The team also provided training in the proper use of a walker and crutches to avoid pain and injury.

Occupational therapists worked with Freddie on improving his upper body strength so he could use crutches and more easily transfer from laying to sitting and standing. Once Freddie could stand, he focused on balance and stability. It was a challenge since the center of his body mass had changed, post amputation.

Many of Freddie’s occupational therapy sessions took place in the activities of daily living (ADL) suite, which mirrors a home setting, including a bathroom, so that therapists could guide him on how to safely complete his personal care, including showering.

After nine days of intense rehabilitation, Freddie returned home, where he would spend the next three months continuing to heal and adjust to his new normal. Once his residual limb was sufficiently healed and he had received his prosthesis, Freddie returned to Avon to participate in their Amp Champ program. Amp Champ ensures patients are comfortable with their prosthetics, allowing them to enjoy maximum independence and safety at home and in the community.

Over the next 11 days, Freddie’s physical, occupational and recreational therapists focused on helping him adapt to his new leg. Physical therapists arranged for Freddie to have a consultation with a prosthetist, a health care provider who makes and fits artificial limbs (prostheses). That specialist made adjustments to Freddie’s prosthesis to ensure his legs were equal in length. Therapy sessions focused on improving Freddie’s gait, or walking pattern, to avoid common compensations like swinging the leg around when taking a step. To refine his gait, therapists had Freddie practice activities where he would need to balance himself. During these sessions he would catch, kick and throw balls while supported by a body-weight supported harness. Occupational therapy stepped in to help Freddie learn new ways to handle common everyday activities like dressing, showering and transferring from surface to surface, all while using his new prosthesis.

An active, sports-oriented individual, Freddie particularly enjoyed his recreational therapy sessions since they included adaptive bowling, golfing and baseball. During his stay, Freddie attended an amputee support group, a powerful experience that compelled him to “pay it forward” to others who had dealt with similar challenges.

Throughout his months-long recovery, Freddie credits his children and family for their ongoing support. “My kids have been my primary source of motivation. They’ve always been there for me,” Freddie said. “My older brother is also always encouraging me. So many people have helped me stay positive, which is what I need.”

By the end of Freddie’s second stay at Cleveland Clinic Rehabilitation Hospital, Avon, he had made excellent progress. While he still required assistance to walk with crutches and go up and down stairs, he was mostly independent for his personal care activities. Freddie is continuing his journey with outpatient therapy and notes that he is constantly surprising himself with his progress.

Freddie admits that losing a leg has been a challenge. “It is hard to see yourself with the new limitations,” he said. “I am working so much harder to do the things that are ‘normal.’ You have to physically and mentally be prepared the best you can for whatever comes your way.”

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