Jackie Paul is on what she calls “quite the journey.”
Paul, who lives in Sicamous and runs the alcohol and drug treatment centre Options Okanagan in Salmon Arm, had her left leg amputated above the knee in November 2021.
A month earlier, she’d suffered three aneurysms — which can be deadly — and was admitted to Kamloops Royal Inland Hospital. She underwent surgery to have stents put in and considers herself blessed to be alive.
“All of a sudden, my life changed overnight,” said Paul. “It’s like… what do you do? You don’t plan on these things.”
Unfortunately, as a result of the surgery, Paul developed cholesterol embolization syndrome which impacted her leg. Due to a COVID-19 outbreak at the hospital, surgery was delayed, leaving Paul to sit and watch as her leg’s condition worsened.
A surgery on Nov. 10 to try and save her leg below the knee was unsuccessful. On Nov. 22, Paul underwent a successful above-the-knee leg amputation and on Dec. 1 she was able to return home.
Paul’s been working with a certified prosthetist and a physiotherapist ever since.
She met her prosthetist, Dave Dillon, while she was at the hospital. She said it’s been surprising how much goes into getting a prosthetic. Paul and her husband have been going to Kamloops once a week to work with Dillon and, as of Jan. 27, Paul’s first prosthetic was almost complete.
In the meantime, she’d been practicing with a “demo” prosthetic, though it was quite painful due to a nerve issue from surgery. On Jan. 25 she had an injection to fix the nerve, and in the days after was able to experience walking with the prosthetic without pain for the first time.
“The team… that is looking after me, from the physiotherapist in Salmon Arm to the team in Kamloops is amazing,” said Paul.
“It’s very comforting… I’m not just left on my own to deal with this.”
Paul’s physiotherapist is Cody Thorpe, who runs Synolo Health in Salmon Arm. He’s been helping Paul with aquatic physiotherapy but will be helping her walk with her new prosthetic.
Megan Kitawaga and Jo Coffey, friends of Paul, started a Gofundme to help get Paul “the most badass advanced prosthetic” that’s raised over $30,000 as of Jan. 28.
Kitagawa and Coffey describe Paul as an integral part of the community and someone who has dedicated her life to helping those afflicted with substance abuse disorders.
“She is the strongest, bravest, and most loving woman I know, and has helped me personally become the woman I am today,” wrote Kitagawa.
Paul remarked some people who donated to her Gofundme are people she’s never even met. “It’s a really amazing world when you sit back and look at all the love and support from people,” she said.
Advanced prosthetics aren’t cheap. Paul said from her research, one with a more advanced knee can cost between $50-75,000, and won’t last longer than five years.
At present, Paul is focused on walking more and and getting to a point with her new prosthetic where she won’t need the assistance of crutches or a walker. She said it’s like training your brain all over again.
“Sometimes my leg that’s been amputated will just jump,” said Paul. “The phantom pain people talk about… is so very real.”
The first time Paul experienced phantom pain, she thought “what the hell is going on?”
But at the end of the day, said Paul, she shouldn’t be alive. When she visited her doctor to get her nerve issue fixed, she said the doctor “couldn’t even explain how she was still here” when thinking about Paul’s aneurysms.
“I’m walking down the road and then I’m dead is how the story usually ends,” said Paul.
Paul is very grateful for the high standard of care she received from medical professionals at the hospital.
A big lesson she’s learned is to never take anything for granted. Even just watching her husband — who she said is the most incredible human she knows — run around the kitchen doing chores can be hard. Such tasks used to be easy but are now hard work.
“Support starts at home and I couldn’t ask for any better,” she said, adding she knows things will get better because the people in her life tell her every day.
Saying it’s been easy would be a lie, said Paul, as the amputation has caused physical, emotional and spiritual challenges for her — and her husband too. Still, Paul doesn’t have a “woe is me” attitude.
Another place Paul has found support is Facebook, where she’s connected with some “prosthetic sisters” who provide her with guidance and friendship as she navigates her new normal.
“It just warms your heart that humanity is still loving and kind, even at the hardest COVID time,” said Paul.
“At the end of the day, when all the chips are down, people will come out of the woodwork to love and support you.”
An avid motorcycle rider, Paul is incredibly excited to ride again when she can. She’s part of an anti-bullying group called Bikers Are Buddies and said her friends in the group are overseeing her bike as she’s having it sent off to be converted into a trike.