- Associated Press - Sunday, March 13, 2016

SEYMOUR, Ind. (AP) - Deciding to go through with an above-knee amputation was tough for Mike Couch.

The Brownstown resident had dealt with pain and swelling from circulation issues in his right leg for years, and his doctor told him removing part of the leg was necessary. If he didn’t have the surgery, he could suffer a blood clot in his heart or lungs, which could be fatal.

And after the surgery, Couch had to learn to walk with crutches, then with a prosthetic leg. It took some time to adjust, but he soon learned how to do things on this own.

Not wanting to dwell on negative emotions, the Austin native decided that helping others in similar situations was his next path. So Couch established the Lost Limbs Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides financial assistance to families of children who are in need of medical and prosthetic assistance.

Since the charity received 501(c)(3) status in February 2014, Couch has raised $20,000 to help five families of children with amputations - two in Indiana, two in Pennsylvania and one in Kentucky.

“There are struggles with it, but I’ve learned the more positive that you stay, the better off you are,” the 42-year-old said of his surgery and recovery.

“You have those tough moments, but you have to keep it in your mind, ‘You know what? I can get through this. Yeah, it’s tough, but you’re given a challenge, and you’ve got to figure out how to get through things,’” he said. “When this all happened, I thought, ‘It’s over. What am I going to do from here?’ I never thought I’d start a charity and be doing the things that I’m doing with this now.”

Focusing on the charity has helped Couch keep his mind on something besides his own physical struggles.

“It just blows me away to see where things have gone,” he said. “I tell people, ‘It was worth it to me because I was able to take something bad that happened to me and turn it into something good to be able to help somebody else from it.’”

The veins in Couch’s right leg had been knotted up since birth. In high school, he occasionally had trouble walking from class to class because his knee would swell up.

“It was really weird because I could go to school and run from class to class all day and not have any issues,” he said. “I could come home and be fine and go to bed, and then the next morning, my leg would be hurting, and my knee would be so swollen I couldn’t bend it. I would pretty much have to crawl out of bed. It was just really unpredictable.”

After high school, he got a job in a factory but again had problems with his leg. A 1994 surgery on his ankle bend didn’t help.

In late 2009, blood clots had formed in his leg. His doctor tried a couple of things, but nothing worked.

By the spring of 2010, the doctor told Couch he was confident there was only one solution - an amputation.

“It was a hard choice, but obviously, there was only one choice that I had,” Couch said. “I knew what I had to do, but it’s like I kind of had to get my mind set into that saying, ‘OK, this is what’s going to happen.’”

The morning of June 30, 2010, Couch went into the hospital for the surgery. After about two hours, the surgery now over, Couch remembers coming out of sedation, being taken to his room and getting sick.

He grabbed the blanket covering him, pulled it up and saw a large bandage around where the lower part of his leg used to be.

It was difficult to sleep that night.

“I could feel all of this pressure, and I couldn’t sleep. I was just constantly in pain,” he said. “The pressure kind of felt like the stitches were going to break open.”

The next morning, doctors unwrapped the bandage and made sure everything looked OK. Later in the day, a nurse came in and had Couch move into a chair and sit up for an hour.

The next day, a doctor checked on him again and told him a nurse would come in to have him try walking on crutches, and then he could head home.

Couch wasn’t sure he was ready to go home after just a few days in the hospital.

“They were taking me in a wheelchair to go to the car to go home,” he said. “I remember pulling the blankets over my leg so nobody would see my leg was gone, and I didn’t want to get out for a while because when I would get out, people would stare and kids would ask about it.”

The stitches came out a few weeks after the surgery, and then it was time to be fitted for a prosthetic. That process began in August 2010, and by mid-September, he had a new prosthetic.

“I figured it would be kind of easy, but it’s a lot harder,” he said. “Of course, they say with the above-knee thing, it’s harder because you’ve got the knee joint that you’re having to use and get familiar with.”

He initially used a crutch to keep himself stable and then used a cane. A few issues cropped up that required additional surgeries to block off the veins in the upper part of his leg. He went back to crutches because he couldn’t use the prosthetic.

Couch recently was fitted for his third socket, which attaches to the upper part of his right leg and holds his prosthetic in place. If his weight fluctuates much, he’ll have to be fitted for a different socket.

A socket costs about $12,000, and Couch’s insurance typically covers most of it. When he got his first one, there was a $2,000 gap he was going to have to pay, but his doctor ended up waiving it.

Couch was fortunate to be able to have a new socket made - but what about those who aren’t so fortunate, he thought. What about children with amputations, constantly growing and requiring new prosthetics and fittings? How would their families bear that financial burden?

That’s when Couch began to play around with the idea of starting a charity and considering ways to raise money to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Couch had been a tour guide at Waverly Hills Sanatorium, a haunted attraction in Louisville, and met a lot of paranormal celebrities from television shows.

He thought about conducting paranormal events, where people could buy tickets to meet the celebrities and investigate haunted attractions with them. He contacted some of the celebrities, and they jumped on board.

His first event was at Whispers Estate in Mitchell, and he raised enough money to complete his paperwork to become a nonprofit.

He then could start conducting events with proceeds benefiting children and their families.

“I just kind of dove into this stuff, and I was like, ‘I hope it works,’ and I lucked out,” he said. “It has worked, and it’s slowly but surely picking up.”

One event was at The Stanley Hotel in Colorado, the inspiration for Stephen King’s “The Shining.” People from all over the country attended the two-day event.

Once Couch had raised enough money to help his first family, he posted about it on social media. He then learned about Deven Jackson, a 10-year-old Pennsylvania boy who lost both legs to a rare meningitis, and he made contact with the family and went out to present them a check.

“In his case, he had all of these doctor bills, and they were trying to accommodate their house to make it more handicap-accessible for him,” Couch said. “I knew he was going to be going into different prosthetics. He was trying to be more active and wanting to get to where he could run.”

The second family also was from Pennsylvania, where Couch helped a girl and her family.

The next two were closer to home.

Landon Campbell, a middle-schooler from Scottsburg, had to have his right arm amputated about three inches above the wrist after a car wreck on Christmas 2014. He had four surgeries in nine days and was in the hospital for 16 days, said his mother, Stacey Turner.

Couch got in touch with several paranormal celebrities to attend an event April 18 and 19 to benefit Landon. Since it was Landon’s first major outing after the accident, he was uneasy about getting out in public.

But once Couch talked to Landon and introduced him to the celebrities, his whole demeanor changed.

“Landon loved meeting Mike and talking with him and realizing that you can still do all you want to do with just a little adjusting,” Turner said.

Turner said her son enjoyed the experience and has said he would like to help kids and possibly be a mentor like Couch someday.

When Couch presented the family with a check, Landon told him about one of his friends who had an amputation because of cancer and wanted some of the money to go to him.

“The work that Mike does is absolutely amazing, and the contribution that he gave us really helped,” Turner said. “With Landon being 13 and still having a growth plate in his arm, we expect to probably have multiple prosthetics. We have gotten his first permanent prosthetic now, and (he is) adjusting pretty well.”

The most recent person Couch helped was a 13-month-old boy in Bardstown, Kentucky, who lost part of his leg.

Couch said it means a lot to him to help these families.

“I know what the struggle is like. I know what they are going to face,” he said.

“But then there’s that other side of you, too, that when you meet them, you can’t help but think about what the kid is going through and what they have to look forward to with things. You have that good side that you’re really happy about it, and then you have that other side that is tough.”

Couch visits his doctor in Cincinnati every six months. Once he gets his new prosthetic, he hopes to reach a point where he can hold a full-time job.

He wants to continue with the paranormal events, but he is considering conducting other types of fundraisers, too. He also attends conventions to spread the word about his charity.

He also has shared his story and information about the charity in a book, “How I Ended Up with One Leg Instead of Two,” a self-published book released in April 2014.

While going through his amputation, he talked to one of his paranormal celebrity friends, who had written a book after losing his wife to cancer. Couch and his mother both began keeping a journal, and some of those entries were incorporated into the book.

A publisher reached out to Couch and offered to do a second edition. He’s now in the process of finishing up another book, which will include more details about his experience and the charity.

Proceeds from the books go toward the Lost Limbs Foundation.

“I got lucky that things caught on. I’m glad it’s where it is now,” he said of the charity. “I wondered when I first started things, ‘What if this doesn’t work? What if we’re not able to get this going? What if I can’t help kids?’ But I think so far, it has been a pretty big success.”


Source: The (Seymour) Tribune, https://bit.ly/1RRMoB4


Information from: The (Seymour) Tribune, https://www.tribtown.com

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