This past week I attended the Amputee Coalition’s 25th Annual Conference in Kansas City. I have been on the Board of Directors since 2003, and had the honor of being asked to present a series of awards at the Opening Ceremonies of this year’s Conference. Because not everyone can attend this event in person, I thought it might be useful/interesting/entertaining – at least for me – to try and teleport you back in time and space to the Westin Hotel in Kansas City. So,
- imagine you are sitting in a large hotel meeting room at 9:00 AM Central Time (so not only do you have to transport yourself back to Thursday AM to a hotel room you’ve never seen, you also need to adjust your time zone to CT – this is complicated, but stay with me);
- imagine that there are many rows of chairs filled with people;
- imagine that there’s a strikingly handsome man standing at a podium whose charisma, good cheer, and infectious enthusiasm transfix you, leaving you powerless to do anything but hang on his every word;
- now strike the image you just formed in your head of 3, and replace it with the image of a middle-aged, slightly overweight, bald guy in a blue and white striped shirt who thinks he’s more handsome and charismatic than he actually is; and
- imagine that the guy in (4) is named Dave.
There. You are now in the Westin Hotel, ready for me to begin.
Pebble in the Pond Award #1: Marshall Cohen
This award recognizes individuals whose leadership and passion have had an enduring impact on the limb loss/difference community, and whose work has created ripples that enrich and change the lives of people affected by LL/D. [Note: I declined to point out on Thursday AM that this title does not suggest that the award winners should be thrown into a body of fetid, standing water, or worse, skipped across it, their limbs splaying wildly as they bounce one, two, three – Oh! Didn’t quite make it four times.]
Marshall Cohen is the Chairman of the Amputee Coalition Board of Directors, and Chairman of its Development Committee. He has led the charge to make the Paddy Rossbach Youth Camp sustainable through private donations.
Marshall got swept up in the energy of the camp the first time he went there a few years ago. So smitten was he that despite being about 50 years older than the most senior campers, he ascended into the forest canopy to ride a zip line, and then forbade anyone from telling his wife about it. Had Marshall not survived the descent, we might be engaged in the much less celebratory renaming of the “Paddy Rossbach Youth Camp” to the “Marshall Cohen Memorial Youth Camp,” with the inspiring motto – “The Kids’ Camp So Good it’s Worth Dying For.”
On a more serious note, Marshall has spearheaded efforts that have led to full funding for the camp and its 100 campers for the last 2 years. Equally important, he has inspired a core group of funders who continue to support the camp year after after, helping ensure its future sustainability.
Marshall couldn’t be at the awards ceremony to receive this honor in person, but he did pass on a personal message to the audience, which I present in edited form:
It is with deep sadness to have to report that I will not be with you in person at this 25th Anniversary Conference. . . . Please note that my heart will be with you throughout the entire Conference, with an eye on the conference calendar, and a rich memory of meeting so many of you at past conferences.
[NOTE: I elected NOT to insert the joke that Marshall’s statement that his heart would be with us the entire conference was only a figure of speech. I further elected not to dig an even deeper comedic hole by declining to instruct the audience that anyone going to the exhibit hall expecting to see Marshall’s heart in a well-crafted, plexiglass display with a cool blue neon-lit sign saying, “Marshall’s Heart” behind it would be sorely disappointed. Virtual audience reading this breathes an audible sigh of relief, praises the heavens that the idiot presenter showed some discretion, and forges onward.]
Pebble in the Pond Award #2: Jeff Cain
Jeff Cain is Chair of the Amputee Coalition’s Government Relations Committee, and he received this award for visionary work and leadership in the area of prosthetic parity.
Jeff led Colorado’s passage of the first Insurance Fairness for Amputees law in the United States. He then brought his expertise and passion for the issue to the Amputee Coalition, where he has led the charge to secure appropriate access to prosthetics for amputees across the country. This effort, as of today, has resulted in 18 additional States passing insurance fairness laws, and numerous other States advancing similar bills. Jeff has also been an integral part of the drive for a Federal insurance fairness initiative, and thanks in no small part to his efforts, today we have a bill that has been introduced in the United States Senate to provide people with limb loss and limb difference access to appropriate prosthetic devices.
On a more personal note, it’s not often that you can sit for 6 hours with someone in a Board Meeting, marvel at their complete and total seriousness and concentration, and then go into the hallway afterwards and see that same person on a skateboard doing the land-based version of paddle surfing, as Jeff did in the Conference hotel last year. In fact, Jeff liked the waves in the Hyatt so much that he emerged from the hotel for a Board dinner proudly carrying a wood staff that he had purchased to pursue his new passion. (Can you say, “closet Renaissance Fair fanatic?”) Predictably, he couldn’t fit the small telephone pole in our rental car. So, he went to the car valet to check the staff with which he could help free Middle Earth from the Orcs while we waited for him. Only at the Amputee Coalition conference could you have a guy with two prosthetic legs carry a wood staff to guys who park cars, try to convince them to give him a ticket, and climb back into the car wondering why they looked at him strangely.
[ASIDE: In a dinner Friday night, Jeff confirmed that (a) he really did like the staff, (b) it was an impulse purchase, and (c) he has not found himself using it nearly as much as he had at first thought he would. I never would have guessed.]
Visionary Leadership Award: Mahesh Mansukhani
This award celebrates individuals who have gone “above and beyond” in contributing to the vitality of the Amputee Coalition, and who remain dedicated to ensuring its work remains a vibrant resource for people affected by limb loss. Mahesh Mansukhani is President of Ossur Americas. He received this award for his leadership in establishing a program that explores how prosthetic facilities can improve the well-being of their patients by improving not only their physical health, but their mental health as well.
Traditionally, the mental health needs of people with limb loss have been directed to psychologists, social workers, or perhaps the primary care physician. However, this new program posits that comprehensive care of the individual is a team responsibility, and that prosthetists have ongoing relationships with amputees that uniquely position them to educate patients about how to recognize signs of psychosocial distress, as well provide information on resources for patients to seek appropriate care.
Mahesh’s vision is this: give prosthetists the tools they need to take a more active role in enhancing the mental wellness and resilience of their patients. With a substantial educational grant, the Amputee Coalition is developing this program, and you can expect to hear more about it in the coming years.
Now, I have a hypothesis about how Mahesh identified the need for this initiative. Mahesh joined Ossur in July, 2008, and I was one of the members of the old management team that he inherited. I’m the only member of that group with limb loss. So I was, in the early days, his only window into the LL/D world.
He observed me. He sat through day long Management Meetings with me once a month. He attended industry events with me. He evaluated me.
And I can only come to the conclusion that after extended and careful analysis, Mahesh concluded, “Good god, this guy really needs some serious help. And if he claims to be a well-adjusted, fully functional amputee, what’s going on with the rest of them?” From that, I contend, emerges this program. I would further like to report that I have stated my hypothesis to Mahesh and he has not refuted it.
Lifetime Achievement Award #1: Paddy Rossbach
This award honors individuals who have had a significant, fundamental, and lasting positive impact on the limb loss community, either through leadership, outreach, mentorship, patient care or research.
Paddy Rossbach is the Past President and CEO of the Amputee Coalition, as well as a former Board Member. She lost her leg below the knee at age 6 when a British military vehicle struck her. She became a nurse, and eventually started focusing on issues affecting the limb loss community.
She founded a not-for-profit organization for adolescent sarcoma patients with limb loss, and became an early proponent of intensive physical rehabilitation as a way to improve these individuals’ ultimate quality of life. She also practiced what she preached, becoming an elite distance runner, completing the New York City Marathon multiple times, and holding the World Record for lower limb amputees in the event.
Paddy is also the person who, after I lost my leg, led my gait training. And I have to tell you, there’s nothing like learning how to walk with a tiny English woman 3 inches behind you screaming encouragement, jumping up and down, and clapping. [COMMENT NOT MADE ON THURSDAY: If you don’t believe me, secure yourself an English female no taller than 5’1″, start walking, and have her scream encouragement at you, jump up and down, and clap while evaluating your gait. It’s terrifying, yet strangely inspiring.]
As President and CEO of the ACA, she had numerous accomplishments. Most notably, she oversaw the creation of the National Peer Visitor Program and the establishment of what has proven to be a productive and critically important relationship with the U.S. military.
I doubt there are many people in the United States who have directly touched the lives of more people with limb loss than Paddy Rossbach. She was there for me when at 26 I was trying to figure out how to reconstruct my life after my accident, and she has been there for thousands, and perhaps tens of thousands of others just like me.
Lifetime Achievement Award #2: Mary Novotny
Mary Novotny founded the Amputee Coalition. None of you would be sitting here – in this virtual Thursday of last week – if not for her.
Mary brought together the first gathering of support group leaders to explore the idea of creating a national organization to support amputees. She is a Past President and CEO of the Amputee Coalition. She has served on its Board of Directors.
And I can tell you, when I met Mary for the first time several years ago and asked her what she thought of the organization that she had started years before, she launched into a passionate, detailed, and comprehensive discussion. And about 10 minutes into our talk, I realized that this was how she had created something from nothing: by sheer force of will, tenacity, and a passion for a cause that she deeply believed in.
Lifetime Achievement Award #3: Peter Thomas
Peter Thomas is a nationally-recognized disability advocate and former board member of the Amputee Coalition. He is an attorney at the firm of Powers, Pyles, Sutter & Verville where he has been since 1991. The list of groups he has served on are truly impressive:
- National Advisory Council of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (“AHRQ”), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- President’s Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Health Care Industry
- National Advisory Board for the Center on Medical Rehabilitation Research (“NCMRR”) at the National Institutes of Health
- Institute of Medicine Committee on Improving the Disability Decision Process
- Peter has also served on numerous non-profit boards including
- the Center for International Rehabilitation
- Physicians Against Land Mines
- the Foundation for Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, and
- The American Trauma Society (ATS).
In addition, he has served as a Trustee for the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, and as Co-Chair of the Health Task Force of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities. He is General Counsel to the National Association for the Advancement of Orthotics and Prosthetics, and has been a key advisor to the Amputee Coalition over the years. And yes, this is an extremely abridged version of his accomplishments.
But my favorite story about Peter demonstrates his passion for a cause – even a futile one – and his willingness to go to any length in its name. Peter grew up about 15 minutes from where I now live. When he learned my current address, he commented that it wasn’t far from Billy Joel’s old residence. [For frame of reference, this is Christie Brinkley-era Joel.] And that led to the following disclosure.
Peter was the President of his senior class in high school. And the thought occurred to him, as his senior prom rolled around, that Billy Joel would be a perfect match for this event. [NOTE: this ignored the somewhat obvious fact that Joel, at that point in his career, was playing stadiums that could hold 20,000 people, not high school gyms or local catering halls.] Undaunted, Peter drove to the Piano Man’s house.
And climbed the fence.
With 2 prosthetic limbs.
And met Billy Joel.
Joel must have been slightly surprised to see an amputee stalker materialize in his driveway. And, amazingly, the multi-platinum artist did not commit to play at the high school prom. But equally amazingly, Joel did not call the cops or release attack dogs on Peter.
Lifetime Achievement Award #4: Doug McCormick
Doug McCormick is the CEO, President, and Director of OrthoCare Innovations. He has spent 17 years working at the intersection of politics, policy, law, and business, helping organizations and corporations in the medical technology and health care industries achieve their objectives.
Doug is a former Member of the Amputee Coalition’s Board of Directors and former General Counsel for the organization. He was the lead strategist in the initiative to secure a CDC grant for the Amputee Coalition, a successful effort that has led to the creation of some of its most unique, trusted, and well-known programs, such as:
- the National Limb Loss Information Center;
- the National Peer Support Network; and
- this National Conference.
Together, these services and programs serve as the infrastructure for the only national support system for amputees and their families in the United States.
[“Why, Dave,” you might ask at this point, “isn’t there a funny story about Doug McCormick? You’ve got death by zip line hypotheticals, staff-wielding Board members, gait training-meets-scream therapy from small Englishwomen, and Billy Joel-stalking high school students. But nothing for Doug? Nothing for Mary Novotny? Why, pray tell, do you discriminate against them?
It means, Dear Reader, that Doug and Mary were too smart to divulge any information that I might use against them. It means that they have shown discretion and good sense when talking to me, suspecting that any juicy story, no matter how funny or apropos at the time, might come back to haunt them.]
Lifetime Achievement Award #5: Doug Smith, M.D.
Doug Smith served as the Medical Director for the Amputee Coalition from 2000 through 2008. He is on staff at Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical Center and at the Seattle Veteran’s Administration Medical Center. He also serves as a Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at the University of Washington.
Doug is the lead editor for the third edition of the Atlas of Amputations and Limb Deficiencies – Surgical, Rehabilitation and Prosthetic Principles, Published by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. He has also served as a Consultant to the United States Military Amputee Centers from 2002 to the present. He has published numerous papers and book chapters on issues associated with amputation and limb loss.
During his time with the Amputee Coalition, Doug made significant contributions to its credibility and professionalism. He was a frequent contributor to inMotion magazine and literally travels the world to understand and participate in new surgical techniques that might lead to better patient outcomes.
The reason I think that Doug is one of the cooler orthopedic surgeons I’ve met is (1) he didn’t laugh at me when I once asked him if people actually shrink as they get older, and (2) he confirmed that the answer is, in fact, “yes.” Humoring idiots like me is a rare skill in an orthopedic surgeon.
Lifetime Achievement Award #6: Kathy Spozio
The final lifetime achievement award went to Kathy Spozio. Kathy is a member of the Amputee Coalition’s Board of Directors, a volunteer extraordinaire, a Peer Visitor Trainer and Peer Visitor herself, a Past Conference Committee Chair, and a Membership Committee Chair.
Kathy, at one time or another, has been a mentor to the majority of people on the current Board. She has always raised the tough issues, demanded that this organization perform at the highest possible level, and most important, passionately represented the voice of every individual with limb loss on every phone call, and in every meeting she has ever participated in.
On a personal note, when I was first Chair of the Amputee Coalition Board back in 2004, I did what young, dumb people in leadership often do – I tried to do everything myself. But as I learned that you can’t lead that way, the person I found myself most often speaking to, the person I trusted as a moral compass, the person I depended on most, was Kathy Spozio.
Unfortunately, Kathy was unable to join us in Kansas City, but she forwarded the following message:
My years of service with the Amputee Coalition seem more like weeks than years and the friends I’ve gained and lost along the way are treasures that are mine to keep forever. There have been so many opportunities for me to learn from new and seasoned people with limb loss that I know saying “thank you” could never be enough.
Please know my level of gratitude for the opportunity to serve all of you, and accept my deepest thanks for honoring me with this award.
Spirit of Collaboration Award #1: Orthotics and Prosthetics Assistance Fund
This award exemplifies excellence and impact created by collaborative efforts with the Amputee Coalition.
The Amputee Coalition has a long-time relationship with OPAF and strongly supports adaptive sports as a key to improving the quality of life for amputees. OPAF has been providing introductions to adaptive sports since 1995. Today, OPAF holds more than 20 “First Clinics” across the country annually in such adaptive sports as volley ball, scuba diving, horseback riding, tennis, swimming, kayaking, and dance.
Robin Burton, Executive Director of OPAF, accepted the award on behalf of the organization.
Spirit of Collaboration Award #2: The Veterans Administration
While most people associate limb loss and veterans with the approximately 1200 wounded warriors from the post-9/11 conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are more than 40,000 Veterans living with limb loss in the U.S. today, most due to dysvascular conditions. The Amputee Coalition has therefore been working with the VA to embed its National Peer Support Program into the VA care system. This work has resulted to date in its Peer Visitation program being implemented in all 21 Veterans Integrated Service Networks across the country.
Accepting the award for the VA was Cindy Poorman, Rehabilitation Planning Specialist at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Ms. Poorman dedicated the award to the men and women in the V.A. with limb loss.
Spirit of Collaboration Award #3: The Centers for Disease Control
Collaboration with the CDC has allowed the Amputee Coalition to develop critical programs like the National Limb Loss Information Center and the National Peer Support Program. It has helped the Amputee Coalition build relationships to address disparity population issues in the Hispanic and Native American communities. More recently, it also resulted in speedy outreach to amputees as a result of the earthquake in Haiti, enabling the translation, publication, and provision of critical patient education materials for health care providers there.
Support from the CDC, in part, also helps fund the Amputee Coalition’s National Conference. [NOTE: No CDC funds were used to transport readers of less is more through the time-space continuum so that they could virtually attend an event that happened 4 days ago. The cost of that has been borne solely by the author of this blog, at a cost of 1.39 trillion dollars. (I used my Amex.) Donations are welcome.] Colleen Boyle, Director of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, CDC, accepted this award.
Spirit of Collaboration Award #4: The American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association
AOPA has been a long-term partner of the Amputee Coalition. It has actively worked to pass the Prosthetic & Orthotic Fair Insurance law in Congress, greatly increasing the number of “feet on the street” in Washington, D.C..
Additionally, AOPA and the Amputee Coalition have partnered on a number of awareness-building projects, including an ad with President Obama. That ad and its companions appeared in such publications as Time, Newsweek and US News & World Report as well as on well-placed billboards around D.C.
Most recently, AOPA spearheaded a join effort to develop a television public service announcement protesting the potential elimination of prosthetic and orthotic coverage in state Medicaid programs. I would therefore like to debut that PSA that resulted from the Amputee Coalition-AOPA collaboration, on the screen in the front of this room.
[Close your eyes. Say the words “amputee PSA” over and over again until you can see a black and white image. Now balance on one leg and twirl in a circle while chanting “Amputee Coalition” and “AOPA” 7 times, all while balancing a can of Cherry Coke on your nose, which should result in you now seeing an amputee in an unemployment office. The amputee has a prosthesis. Then he doesn’t. Or, alternatively, click here to actually watch the damn thing.]
Tom Fise, Executive Director of AOPA, accepted this award.
Outstanding Professional Service Award
The final award was the Outstanding Professional Service Award, presented to Todd Anderson of Otto Bock posthumously.
This award recognizes an individual professional for leadership and exemplary service to the limb loss community. The recipient has a deep understanding of and appreciation for patient-centered care, lifelong learning, and the value of peer support in the amputee care continuum. The winner is a true healer who lives these valued qualities: creativity, inclusiveness, initiative, collaboration, compassion, and a willingness to go the extra mile.
Despite the fact that Todd worked for a company that competes against mine in the marketplace, I counted him as one of my true friends. He was, to put it simply, a good guy.
I was told by one of his co-workers that Todd used to introduce himself to new Otto Bock hires as follows: “I’m employed by Otto Bock, but I work for all amputees in the United States.” While that may sound cliched or saccharine, if you knew Todd and heard him say it, there was no doubting how serious he was about that commitment.
It’s extraordinarily fitting that this award will hereafter be known as the Todd Anderson Outstanding Professional Service Award. If I had told Todd that he was going to have an award named after him, he would have waved me off with a wry smile on his face and said, “I don’t want anything named after me. At least wait until I’m dead.”
While I was proud to present this award on Thursday, I only wish I could have honored this imagined statement by giving it to Todd 35 years from now.
Brad Ruhl, President of Otto Bock, accepted this award on behalf of Todd and his family.
This is now officially the longest post in less is more history. However, I wanted to highlight the achievements of this deserving group of individuals and entities.