Man with prosthetic legs going down the stairs

After undergoing a second below-the-knee leg amputation, Ed Carney knew exactly where to go for his therapy — “back home” to the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute’s inpatient rehab unit at UPMC East.

“It was like going back home to family,” says Ed, age 70. “They knew me, and I knew them. And I knew they’d get me back on my feet again.”

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Round One of Rehab

Diagnosed with diabetes a decade ago, Ed has struggled with numerous disease-related complications, including kidney failure and circulation issues in his feet. Despite several bypass procedures to improve blood flow, he developed sores on his left foot that wouldn’t heal. One by one, he lost the toes on his foot until his doctor recommended amputating his leg below the knee.

In early 2020, the retired real estate broker and grandfather of three underwent surgery at UPMC St. Margaret. After several months of healing, he was admitted to UPMC East’s rehab unit to learn how to use his prosthetic leg.

“Going there was an easy choice,” says Ed, who lives with his wife, a UPMC information technology specialist, in Murrysville. “It’s only 15 minutes from my home.”

Ed didn’t know what to expect, but he did have a goal: to get back on his feet and walk out of the hospital without a wheelchair or walker. Over the next two weeks, the physical therapists and occupational therapists worked with him on gait training, balance, strength-building exercises, and daily living skills.

“They taught me how to get in and out of the bathroom and shower, and in and out of a car. I even worked on standing and balance while whipping up a batch of brownies in the kitchen,” says Ed.

Two weeks later, Ed walked out of UPMC East using only a cane. “I cried. Just the feeling of being able to walk again was overwhelming,” he says.

Round Two of Rehab

In early 2021 — just one year after his first amputation — Ed was back in surgery to have his right leg amputated below the knee. “The same thing happened,” he says. “Poor circulation in my toes and wounds that just wouldn’t heal.”

When Ed returned to the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute at UPMC East, he knew what to expect. He also had a goal: to walk again and be able to climb the five steps of his family’s travel trailer at a campground outside Presque Isle State Park. His extended family vacations there every summer, but he hadn’t been able to go for two years due to his leg problems.

“It was good going back for rehab at a place I was familiar with,” says Ed. “I knew what I needed to accomplish; I just wasn’t sure how I was going to do it without any legs.”

Like the first time, he worked with therapists on using his prosthetics, rebuilding his strength, working on mobility training, and developing techniques for independent learning.

“It was scary when they said, ‘let’s take a walk’ for the first time,” says Ed. “There I was with a walker and two sticks at the bottom of my legs. But they did a great job helping me.”

The rehab team worked with him on walking, standing, using steps, balancing with his prosthetics, and daily living activities. Because Ed enjoys baking, they also spent a lot of time working with him in the kitchen where he had to stand on his prosthetics while baking brownies, a cake, and muffins.

“It was a good way to work on my balance, mobility, and endurance,” says Ed.

A Team Effort

One week after leaving rehab, Ed made the trip back to his trailer in Erie. He sent a video to his therapists at the rehab unit to show them he had achieved his goal and conquered the steps.

“I was so happy. I was able to do something I haven’t done in two years. It was a real accomplishment,” says Ed. “I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Ed continues to make goals — including walking without a walker and, eventually, without a cane. He looks forward to making more trips to Presque Isle and hopes to be golfing again by next spring. He credits the entire rehab team — the therapists, nurses, and other staff — for providing the support he needed to meet his goals.

“Everyone encouraged me. Even a member of the housekeeping staff came into my room and said, ‘You go Ed!'” he says. “It was a team effort all the way.”

Donna Ruby, RN, one of the nurses at the rehab unit, says Ed was an inspiration to both patients and staff.

“He was determined from the start to walk out of there and conquer those steps,” she says. “To watch his transformation from needing two people assisting him to walking independently was amazing.

“It’s a hard thing to understand how difficult it is to put those prosthetics on and train the mind to know what to do,” she adds. “But Ed met every challenge with a smile on his face. We all learned from him.”

Ed’s treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.

About UPMC Rehabilitation Institute

The UPMC Rehabilitation Institute offers inpatient, outpatient, and transitional rehabilitation, as well as outpatient physician services so that care is available to meet the needs of our patients at each phase of the recovery process. Renowned physiatrists from the University of Pittsburgh Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, as well as highly trained physical, occupational, and speech therapists, provide individualized care in 12 inpatient units within acute care hospitals and over 80 outpatient locations close to home and work.