Imagine having to make the decision to amputate the lower part of your leg. Westminster teacher Anne Heetderks made that heartbreaking decision in September after her ankle was shattered in a fall in January 2009.
“I was on a ladder and I was taking down Christmas decorations we had hung in the palm trees,” she said. “I was reaching and the ladder spun around. It was resting on the palm tree and it twisted around and I fell.”
The compound fracture was complicated by the soil and mulch that found its way into the wound.
“After nine surgeries they were still finding pieces of the front yard in my ankle,” Heetderks said.
She battled infections and the trials of having an open wound. With all this going on she went back to teaching even while tethered by tubes to a wound vacuum, a machine which helps remove excess fluids from an open wound.
“My students, they’re amazing,” she said. “If you just tell them what’s going on; if you are just honest with them, they’re alright and then they think it’s the coolest thing.”
Her 10th surgery was the amputation, which took place at Jackson Memorial Hospital on Sept. 29. She had considered a different surgery to save her foot, but after talking to other amputees, decided a prosthetic leg would give her greater mobility.
The first major appointment after amputation went well.
“It’s just so nice to see an x-ray go up and it doesn’t look like a mess,” Heetderks said. “And now to be working with something that isn’t infected and isn’t compromised in so many ways…”
Things aren’t perfect. She’s dealing with phantom pain and itching in the part of the leg that’s missing. She has called amputees and researched solutions in hopes of dealing with it without medication.
Now Heetderks is working on getting stronger so she can go to work. Her mother, author Ruth Vander Zee, is substituting for her. Along with her family, Westminster faculty, staff and students are keeping Heetderks spirit’s up by sending cards, letters and food.
“For this surgery, like in past, the Parents’ Guild organized meals, students made cards, provided family gift baskets, and sent innumerable emails and texts to let them know that we were all praying for her and for the medical teams that cared for her,” said Ana Proveda, Westminster spokesperson.
“Classes have gotten together to provide flowers on a weekly basis to her home, movie baskets for her family, books she can read, etc. Bottom line, as her needs change, the Westminster community is at the ready to join in and help as best we can.”
Because of all the volunteers, Heetderks said her family might not have to cook through Christmas.
“It’s phenomenal,” she said. “There’s an assumption that everyone has a support system, but no, they don’t. My support system — my husband (Doug) and my two daughters (Annika and Elise), my mom and dad living here, our church and the school — has been amazing.”
As far as the future, in about three months she should be able to get her first prosthetic. She says an amputee can use the starter leg up to six months.
“And then you get your real leg, with all the bells and whistles with a high functioning foot,” she said.