“You did it,” Dr. Paulinder Rai said as he smiled at Patricia Lewis.
Lewis, 54, a nurse at Mercy Medical Center, sat in a wheelchair to Rai’s right, smiling back. After having both of her legs amputated last fall, she was set to head home to Rockville Centre from the Lynbrook Restorative Therapy and Nursing center last week after months of recovery. A dozen or so medical professionals gathered at the Atlantic Avenue facility for a news conference on Jan. 31 to send her off.
“Being a double amputee doesn’t mean that this is the end of your life, but it’s a new beginning,” she said. “I’m just grateful to be here.”
A Rockville Centre resident who had been working at Mercy as an overnight oncology nurse for about two years, Lewis began feeling pain in her legs last summer. She continued to work, not “letting on” the pain she was experiencing, according to Maggie Glier, Mercy’s director of nursing services. But she later suffered a stroke, and in Mercy’s intensive care unit, doctors discovered hairline fractures in her feet that were the result of undiagnosed diabetes.
Lewis’s case is unusual, said Rai, a wound care physician at Mercy and the medical director of Lynbrook Restorative Therapy and Nursing’s amputee program. She had non-healing wounds, he noted, and the tissue in both of her legs was not viable. “It’s becoming increasingly important to be able to identify diabetes early and manage the disease aggressively so that we can prevent the loss of limbs from happening in the first place,” Rai said.
Lewis had her left leg amputated on Sept. 26. “The first time that I went to see her after the first amputation, it was hard for me not to cry,” Glier said. “And that’s when she said to me, ‘I don’t say, “God, why me?” I say, “Why not?” I’m going to be OK.’”
But she needed a second amputation on Oct. 31. “I looked down and was like, ‘My God, I no longer have my legs,’” she told the Herald. “That was when it hit me, but . . . thank God I’m still here. At least they’re not planning my funeral.”
As a patient at Mercy Medical Center’s Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Department, Lewis pledged to walk — and dance — again. “Not only was she able to face her challenges in therapy with a smile, but with a consistent positive attitude,” said Kerry Brown, director of physical therapy and rehabilitation. “Not only for herself, but she was also able to encourage other patients and inspire them on their road to recovery.”
In November, Lewis moved to the Lynbrook facility, where she has built her upper-body strength and grown accustomed to prosthetic legs. She listed just a few of the everyday actions she has had to relearn: getting out of bed, going to the bathroom, taking a shower and putting on clothes.
Still, she stays positive. “Pat would go down the hall,” said Lisa Penziner, administrator of Lynbrook Restorative and Nursing, “and everybody would be smiling.”
Surrounded by nurses and therapists who helped her through her recovery, Lewis slowly stood up from her wheelchair and grabbed a walker in front of her. Standing straight, she let go of the walker to move her hands to the beat of McFadden and Whitehead’s “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now.” Her body swayed as she smiled up at the ceiling. Then she walked around the room, testing out her new legs.
Lewis said she looked forward to continuing her life at home with the help of supportive family members, specifically noting her aunt and niece. Colleagues said they couldn’t wait to welcome her back to Mercy, where she expects to continue working.
“You said it best yourself: Life goes on, right?” Rai told her. “You’re proof of that.”