'There is life after amputation'

Long Island's first amputee support group is created at Lynbrook Restorative Therapy & Nursing

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Marc Beres’s life changed in 2011, when he lost his left leg in a motorcycle accident. He was overcome by depression, he said, and went through many hardships before finding comfort among others who have had similar experiences.

Lynbrook Restorative Therapy & Nursing recently formed a group to support those, like Beres, who have lost a limb. The center became the first on Long Island to launch an amputee support group seven months ago, giving its participants a chance to bond with other amputees and learn that there is life after limb loss.

“By paying it forward, the things I’ve learned the hard way, I can put somebody on the fast track to getting up,” Beres said. “To being independent, living their life and getting back to their life without a limb. That’s the reason I got involved in it, and so far, we’ve been successful at turning some people around.”

The Amputee Coalition of America estimates that there are about 185,000 new lower-extremity amputations each year in the U.S., and about 2 million people in the country are amputees.

At a Sept. 25 news conference, Lisa Penziner, an administrator at Lynbrook Restorative, announced plans for the support group, which meets on the second Wednesday of every month at noon at the facility, 243 Atlantic Ave., in Lynbrook. The group, which takes part in various activities, started with two members and now has more than a dozen. Its meetings are intended to be a positive place where amputees can connect, offer one another advice and learn how to live life with the greatest freedom possible, Penziner said.

“The program began as an inpatient program with amputees from local hospitals,” she said. “But then once they were discharged, there was nothing in the area for amputees to get together and spend time together to talk about things.”

Lynbrook Restorative invited the Nassau Kings wheelchair basketball team to organize a tournament at the facility, which took place in its parking lot on Sept. 27. National Wheelchair Basketball Hall of Famer Jack Graff founded the Kings in 1987 after seeking a way to help amputees and people with disabilities stay active.

Kings player-coach/Vice President Edy Lopez, of Amityville, said that after he lost his right leg in the Navy when he was blown off a platform during flight operations aboard the aircraft carrier USS Independence, he looked for a way to take part in athletics. He discovered wheelchair basketball in 1981, and eventually joined the Kings. He has been a team member for 32 years, and the Kings are the No. 7-ranked Division II wheelchair basketball team in the country by the National Wheelchair Basketball Association. Lopez added that he was happy to see the support group started in Lynbrook.

“It’s a real pride and joy for me to be able to have a support group like this empowering people,” he said.

Penziner said she planned to create similar groups in Glen Cove, Woodbury and Suffolk County, to follow up on the success of the Lynbrook group. She said the basketball tournament was intended to show people that they can do anything after limb loss, including playing basketball and holding full-time jobs.

Keicha Wynn, a group member who lost her left leg 10 years ago due to complications of Stage 4 glaucoma, said the group helped keep her from feeling alone. “When I became an amputee, I felt like I was in a world by myself,” she recalled. “There were no support groups on Long Island. Finally, there’s a support group that we can come to and talk to someone and learn the importance of how to take care of your limb loss. There is life after amputation.”

Penziner said that Wynn developed the group’s mission statement, which is to “empower every amputee so that they can achieve fulfilling lives every day in mind, body and spirit.”

State Assemblywoman Judy Griffin, of Rockville Centre, honored Lynbrook Restorative at the news conference, and lauded Penziner and other administrators for creating the group. “Our amputee population is terribly underserved,” Griffin said. “I’m proud to recognize Lynbrook Restorative Therapy & Nursing on their achievement for their new support group.”

Griffin appeared beside Penziner, Lopez, Beres, Wynn and Marcia Chambers, a quadruple amputee, at the news conference. Beres said that joining the group helped him cope with his limb loss by elevating him from feeling sorry for himself to becoming productive.

“Prior to getting involved with other amputees, your ordeal seems like only yours,” he said. “Once you start to realize that it’s not, you find that things with other amputees that are very common in the process of reclaiming your life.”

For more on the support group, visit lynbrookrehab.com.