Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Northwestern University Prosthetics-Orthotics Center

Prosthetics Model Barbara Jackson

Prosthetics Model B. JacksonMs. Barbara Jackson, a NUPOC Prosthetics Educational Model, recently spoke with Capabilities and shared her life experiences and insights as a person living with a transfemoral amputation. Ms. Jackson is a pleasant, well-spoken woman whose youthful appearance belies the fact that she has great grandchildren. With a gentle voice and a sweet manner, she speaks clearly and thoughtfully. Her humility to God is translated into kindness and rectitude toward others. Ms. Jackson’s response to adversity and pain are both remarkable and inspirational. She shares her story to offer hope and encouragement to others who experience similar difficult life experiences.

Ms. Jackson reflected on her life experiences from the perspectives of a firmly family-centered focus and living according to Bible-based hope.  Her initial words are reflected thematically throughout her life history, “I can say that the love and support of my family and God gave me hope in my life.” The 5th of nine children and the first daughter, Ms. Jackson remembers growing up in a happy, vibrant family. She was surrounded by her 3 older brothers, 2 younger brothers and 2 younger sisters. Now one of 3 surviving siblings, she continues to delight in her children, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren.

Ms. Jackson attributes much of her accomplishment in childrearing to her mother’s supportive nurturance and internalization of her judicious discipline. She reflected that the basic values and behavior that she learned from her mother enabled her to transmit a similar set of beliefs and values to her own 5 children. Although her mother passed away in 1994, Ms. Jackson says she feels her mother’s influence every day, “My mother is in my mind and my heart. She taught me to be obedient to Jehovah and I believe I will see her again. The discipline that she taught me, I have taught to my own children. They all graduated from high school and were well-behaved. They all had good conduct.” Modest about the success of having raised her children well, she again attributed the importance of her mother’s participation in and contributions to her life, “She gave her values to me and I passed them to my children.” During years of economic difficulties, Ms. Jackson, her husband, and their children lived in the same Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) building as her mother. Later, they even lived on the same floor, but in separate units.

“Now, I live alone in a senior citizen building where my grandchildren and great grandchildren come to visit me. At this point in my life I think I am happier than ever. I go to Kingdom Hall where I attend the services and enjoy spending time with my friends. I am grateful for the love of my family and the hope that I found by being part of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

Capabilities observed that Ms. Jackson has demonstrated faith and endurance, even during life’s difficulties. Ms. Jackson reflected on a significant parallel, “Faith and endurance in the face of trials and tribulations is like Job. Pain and hardship were visited on him, but he endured and kept his faith in God strong.”

Ms. Jackson has lived with a transfemoral (above the knee) amputation since 1967. Having experienced 44 years of living with a lower limb prosthesis, she is expert in identifying both excellence and inadequacy in sockets and prosthetic components. Ms. Jackson reflected on her life at that time. Following a brief background, she related the circumstances that resulted in an unexpected, traumatic amputation of her left leg. Here is her experience in her words.

“I got married on July 1, 1967 when I was 19 years old, so when the accident occurred, I was about 20 years old. I already had 3 children. My husband and I were short of money for an apartment, so we had been staying with my mother for a while. Eventually, we got an apartment close to my mother. My older brother’s girlfriend took care of our 2 daughters and son while we were at work.

“At the time, of the accident I was pregnant with my 4th child. I had been working at Sears and Roebuck where I was not making much money. The commute was hard. I had to take a bus to the El and go through Jackson Tunnel. I was pregnant, so I felt tired from commuting, working, and walking up to our apartment on the 3rd floor. I worked until March 1968 when I quit and decided to stay home and take care of the children. The accident occurred about a month later.

“Let’s see, it was April 6, 1968, just two days after Martin Luther King was assassinated. My husband’s cousin had come to visit us and she and I went out to a corner store. We were ready to walk across a side street and stood between some parked cars waiting for the traffic to clear. I can recall the location exactly. She was taller than I. As we stood between the parked cars, I noticed that there were no drivers in them, but the one beside me began to move. Instead of stepping out into the street, I thought I would get out of the way by stepping back onto the curb with my left leg. It was at that time that my leg was crushed between two parked cars. I didn’t know this until later, but a drunk driver caused a chain reaction that shoved all the parked cars against each other.

“I can remember looking down and seeing my leg. By that time, I was lying on the pavement looking up at the blue sky thinking, ‘Am I going to die?’ I don’t recall much about that time. I was taken by ambulance to Providence Hospital on 51st and King Drive. I remember that I could hear voices talking. I woke up about one or two weeks later. I saw my left leg in a cast. An orthopedic specialist tried to save my leg. He asked me to move my toes, but I could not. I could see that they had turned blue. The doctor spoke with my husband and told him that my leg had gangrene and needed to be amputated. He explained that I and the fetus I was carrying would die unless they could amputate my leg. To save my life and our baby’s life, my husband gave permission for the amputation. At the time, it was so painful that I was glad to be rid of it, just to be relieved of the pain.

“I returned to consciousness about May 1968 and saw that my leg had been amputated. I was in the hospital until about June 1968. It was about that time because the room had a television and that’s how I heard that Robert Kennedy had been assassinated. Even though it was a hard time for me, I felt the love and support coming from my family. My aunt and my husband came to visit me every day. My husband loved me even though my leg was missing. In the hospital, I spent a lot of time thinking about my leg missing and it had been one month since I had seen my children. I wanted to see my children on Mother’s Day. I was so anxious to see them and all 3 of them came to see me that Mother’s Day. At the time, my oldest son, Reginald, must have been about 3 years old, Lisa was 2, and Shanell must have been about 1 year old. Shanell asked me, ‘What happened to your leg?’ I told her that it got injured and had to be amputated. It wasn’t hard for them to understand.

“I was discharged from the hospital about June 1968. My eldest brother picked me up in a cab to take me to my mother’s where the children were staying. When I came out on crutches, he asked me the strangest question. He said, ‘Where’s your leg!?’ I can’t imagine what he was thinking. What a question! After I got home, I felt dejected and isolated myself for some time. I didn’t feel like I wanted to get out. I was on crutches because I didn’t have a prosthetic leg. I couldn’t get a prosthetic leg because we didn’t have any insurance support at that time. I felt sad and depressed. Later on, one of the hospital nurses told me, ‘You’ll be OK. Believe that. You’ll be OK.’ I felt better after hearing that.

“I was still young and pretty, but I was ignorant and I blamed God for my situation. At the time, a lady Jehovah’s Witness was visiting CHA to study the Bible with my mother. I recall that the lady said that God could restore my leg in the future and she offered me weekly Bible study. In 1969, we moved into an apartment near my mother and I decided to begin to study the Bible. Our whole family studied the Bible. After I began Bible study, I took to heart the word of God and on October 4, 1969 I became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Worshipping God gave me new hope in my life.

“I had been on crutches for 2 years. We didn’t have insurance so I could not get an artificial leg. But, I was young woman who was independent in nature, and able to be mobile and active even on crutches. By that time, I had 4 children at the time and was pregnant with my youngest, Sam. About that time, my husband was beaten up and lost his job, so we went on public aid. We moved into our own CHA apartment on the 13th floor. On December 17, 1969, I gave birth to Sam and decided that we’d have no more children so I had my tubes tied. Toward the end of 1969, after I recovered from Sam’s birth, I was measured in 1970 for my first prosthesis. Public aid made it possible for me to get a prosthesis.

“I was glad to walk again, even though it was a heavy, wooden leg. Partly because it was so heavy, I still needed crutches to walk with it. The 2nd leg fit well. It felt lighter and I used a cane instead of crutches. Before I got a prosthesis, I got some training about how to transfer from cars, bath and so on. It was great to be able to walk again. But my newfound hope was being part of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Together, our family attended Kingdom Hall and that helped me and my children. I had a Bible-based hope and strength from God. Without that, I think that I would have fallen down into depression.

“Now the children are grown up and they are all respectable and hard working. I worked hard to train them in the Bible. Sam, my youngest who is now 42 years old, is the only one of the children who is interested in becoming one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. We are all free moral agents and no one can force someone to believe or have faith. A person needs heart-felt worship that comes from within, not from outside.

“My husband continued to be home with us. He stayed home with us for 13 years until the Devil came and snatched him away. He helped with everything, even the cooking and washing. After he left, I continued to live on the 13th floor and my mother lived on the 16th floor. Together, we took care of the children. Later on, we both moved to the 2nd floor. In 1980 I went to school and earned my GED and became a clerk-typist. After we got some furniture, I didn’t work again. We had to provide for 5 children and 2 adults.

“My prosthesis began to hurt. I learned how to protect my residual limb from poorly fitting sockets and patch up abrasions with moleskin. No one had warned me not to gain weight. I wish I’d known that! As I gained weight, the prosthetic fit changed. I wore a suction leg and it was painful for 30 years! In 1990 Mr. Edwards made me a comfortable suction leg and I wore that for about 6 years. In 1996, a different prosthetist made me a tight and painful leg that I wore until 2000. I tried to get along with a painful prosthetic fit for many years. It was painful all the time. It was hard for my husband to understand why I was grouchy and crabby. After his leg gave him a lot of pain, he started to understand it. People don’t understand something until they have a similar experience.

“In 2004, Mr. Rotter at Scheck and Siress made me a really good leg. I found out that they weren’t making suction legs any more. Mr. Rotter suggested that I try a Lanier limb and that has worked well. Next month, I will meet him for a new check socket and later I will break in the new socket. Right now, my socket is dilapidated and taped up so I can still use it.”

Since April 1980, Ms. Jackson has been an Educational Model in Prosthetics at NUPOC. Her participation as a volunteer Educational Model helps NUPOC students learn. Her other interests include gathering socially with her friends, sewing, and seeing movies. She prioritizes religious service to come first in her life. She describes her greatest joys as being a mother and enjoying the company of her wonderful children, as well as her grandchildren and great grandchildren. She has persevered through hard times; and offers supportive encouragement for others who may be facing limb loss: “No matter you’re your age or cause of your amputation, it will be difficult, especially if you have low self-esteem. Just remember that you are not alone and life will go on. You can regain your joy in life by associating with other amputees. It helps get rid of discouragement and self pity. Also, they can help you receive the support that you need.”

In her own words, Ms. Jackson has told her story and it requires little supplement or interpretation. Ms. Jackson reflected, “I tried to do what was right in spite of trials and tribulations.” As a recap to her life story, Ms. Jackson stated simply, “I loved my children and learned from God’s word.” Ms. Jackson offers her story here so that her experiences may provide hope and inspiration to others who may be facing amputation and difficulties in life.

(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.