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Amputees find support and humor at weekly gatherings

Courtesy of Mark Goetcheus
Harborview's amputee support group meets weekly.


This story originally aired on June 16, 2018.

The day that changed Michael Freeman’s life came about 22 years ago.

“I was crushed by an eight-ton truck in a loading dock across the pelvis. They took me out to Madigan and did emergency surgery,” Freeman said.

In the course of his treatment he was given a common blood-thinning medication, to which he turned out to be severely allergic. The complications would eventually cost him one of his legs. He was sent to Harborview in Seattle for two months to recover.

“And I met this miracle person here at Harborview. This person came in, and handed me a bunch of literature and said, this is what your life’s gonna be like, this is what you need to be doing, exercises you need to be doing,” Freeman said through tears to a group of fellow amputees.

“And I looked at her and said, what gives you the right to tell me what my life’s going to be like? And she reached down, took her leg off, and said, ‘I am one.’ And it was Dee over here,” he said.

“Dee” is Dee Malchow, a retired nurse and the founder of a support group for other amputees that meets weekly at Harborview. There, long-timers like Malchow and Freeman offer advice and empathy to much more recent amputees.

Members of the group have suffered boat accidents and tangles with a logging truck, diabetic complications and even a shark bite.

But the group is far from gloomy. When they’re not trading tips on typing one-handed or how to avoid falls, they’re swapping jokes about half-off pedicures and jobs at IHOP.

“Humor kind of lifts you up out of the mud,” said Malchow.

In this story, we listen in on this extraordinary support group, and hear about the members’ struggles, triumphs and different paths to healing.