Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Northwestern University Prosthetics-Orthotics Center

Prosthetics Model Vertis Eatmon

Prosthetics Model Vertis EatmonRecently, NUPOC spoke with Ms. Vertis Eatmon, an Educational Model in Prosthetics, who shared her story. Ms. Eatmon is a lady who "walks the walk"…and does so with two prosthetic legs. Through the example of her daily life, she quietly encourages other people who suddenly face living with an amputation. A warm and gentle person, she understands the trauma, loss, and sadness that people face when they experience an amputation. With a sweet smile, she offers a few simple words of support like, "You think you can't, but you will be able to walk again." Ms. Eatmon knows that sometimes just a few words of encouragement can make all the difference in a person's life.

She speaks matter-of-factly about her difficult experiences, but she focuses positively on her activities and participation in life. Like a personal motto to live by, Ms. Eatmon frequently said, "I got up and went on about my life." Ms. Eatmon can inspire others to attempt what seems impossible and to achieve a new lease on life. NUPOC appreciates Ms. Eatmon for her 16 years of participation as an Educational Model in prosthetics.

NUPOC: Tell us a little about yourself.

Ms. Eatmon: It all started in July 1975. I was 36 years old. In May that year, I gave birth to my third child, Tiffany. Three weeks later, my leg hurt and it was swollen. My sister, who is a nurse, told me it looked like a clot might have developed and advised me to see the doctor. I went to the ER, but the intern sent me home to soak my leg and wrap it.

By July, my leg was much worse and I was admitted to the hospital, but for cardiac surgery. As a child I had rheumatic fever and it damaged my heart, but I didn't know it. My heart condition was not diagnosed until 1975. That year, suddenly everything seemed to happen at once. On July 16 I had to have emergency open heart surgery to replace my aortic and mitral valves. A cardiac specialist flew in from New York and the surgery took hours longer than expected. Now I am the longest living person who has these Bjork-Shiley prosthetic heart valves implanted.

My right leg and then the left leg developed clots that caused gangrene. By August I had to have my right leg amputated above the knee and a month later I had my left leg amputated below the knee. I was in the hospital for a long time, from July through November and I don't actually remember everything in the right order.

I was traumatized by losing my legs. After I lost my legs, I didn't want to see anyone and I didn't want anyone to see me. I just wanted to hide myself. When people came to visit me, I pretended like I was asleep. Before my surgeries, I worked in the Post Office. When I was in the hospital, my co-workers used to come and visit me. They'd stand over me and just cry. That made me mad. I mean, I was the one who lost my legs, so what did they have to cry about? I never said anything. I felt mad, but I just couldn't face anyone and continued to act like I was asleep.

It was such a shock to lose my legs. I had never seen anyone without legs. I simply could not see what I would be doing in life without legs. I didn't know how I could live. I wanted to hide. I didn't want people to see me. I felt very depressed and doubted that I could go on. But, eventually I got up and went on about my life.

NUPOC: What helped you recover?

Ms. Eatmon: Well, God didn't want to take me. I lived, so it was not the end for me. I have always been church oriented and I asked my pastor to pray for me. Also, my sister is a nurse and she introduced me to a rehabilitation specialist. I just decided that I would go on about my life. I wasn't doing any good lying around. When I went over to RIC, I saw other people walking without their legs. That made a big difference to me.

At the beginning, I doubted that I'd be able to walk. My Physical Therapist encouraged me and said, "You will be able to walk." I needed to hear that. I decided that I would get up and learn how to walk. Rehabilitation was a lot of work, but it helped me to see other people walking. A lot of people helped me. I think people wanted to help me because of my personality. They were determined that I would be able to walk. Their determination fired my own determination.

Since 2007, I have been a Peer Visitor at RIC. Seeing people who learned how to walk on prosthetic legs helped me get up and walk. So now I try to help other people who've lost their legs feel confident that they too will learn to walk.

NUPOC: You worked hard and got back to the business of living.

Ms. Eatmon: I learned a lot at RIC. After I got new legs, I joined the Gospel Choir at church. I was able to walk up the stairs and stand in the choir loft. Also, I got married to a good man, Mr. Lewis Eatmon. He was a chef and a really good man. We got married in a big church wedding and I walked down the aisle on my new legs. After that, I got all my kids back and raised them. I sent both my daughters to Northern Illinois University. My older daughter, Rhonda, graduated in psychology and my younger daughter, Tiffany, is planning to graduate in Journalism. My son, Ronald, works in security. Mr. Eatmon passed away in February 1988.

NUPOC: You have done a great job raising your kids. From 1975 you faced hard times. Even though you experienced an unexpected physical and psychological tragedy, you have been able to develop your life in new directions and help a lot of people.

Ms. Eatmon: Yes, I got up and went on about my life. We never know what God has in store for us. It is strange to think that if I had not had the clot in my leg, I would have died from my undiagnosed heart condition. I discontinued the Gospel Choir and now I'm co-teaching Sunday school at my church.

Recently, I have begun to rely on a chair instead of prosthetic legs. I'm lazy now and feel like I'm wearing down. But, I know that I need to get up and walk up and down the corridor every day. I am still a Peer Visitor at RIC. In 1995 I started to work as an Educational Model here at NUPOC and I have been helping out here ever since.

(Interview and story by R. J. Garrick, PhD)

Become an Educational Model

If you have a physical disability or use a prosthesis or orthosis and would like to volunteer as an Educational Model at NUPOC, please contact Ken Harris.