Craig woman prepares for leg amputation
Craig — At 32 years old, Amanda Wooten, of Craig, decided to cut-off her leg.
Wooten survived bone cancer as a child and was one of the first in the nation to receive specialized treatment for osteosarcoma. The support of a metal rod in her femur has allowed her to keep her leg for the past 17 years.
“Years ago, the doctors told me this was life over limb. I was lucky. I got to keep both,” Wooten said.
Now, after repeated infections and eight surgeries, it’s time “to get rid of it,” Wooten said.
Wooten learned of her cancer when, at age 15, she broke her femur, the largest bone in the human body, during basketball practice.
“Basketball was my dream. It was my life. I was never able to play again,” Wooten said.
She later learned a tumor the size of a cantaloupe caused by the bone cancer had been growing in her leg. Wooten was taken to Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center in Denver, where Dr. Cynthia Kelly, an orthopedic surgeon at Colorado Limb Consultants, and her team were pioneering a new treatment. Wooten was case number 34.
“We see osteosarcoma in the mid- to late teens, early 20s and again in people around 70 to 80 years old,” Kelly said. “We have a unique treatment that we deliver at our hospital system. Only two other countries have this treatment, and at the time, we where the only ones to offer intra-arterial chemotherapy.”
The treatment involves threading a catheter through blood vessels that support the tumor, then flooding it with targeted chemotherapy, killing the cancer cells and preventing the spread of cancer to other parts of the body. The tumor and bone was surgically removed from Wooten’s leg after chemotherapy. A metal rod was attached to her femur to provide support to the weakened limb.
By December 2000, Wooten was cancer-free and had returned to an active life style.
The community came to know Wooten as a survivor, a person who, despite her illness, was full of smiles and always put others first. Yet, there is a darker side to her story.
Weight gain was taking a toll on her self-esteem, prescription pain killers became an addiction and it was only a matter of time before the structure supporting her weakened femur would wear out.
“I had some amazing times,” Wooten said. “I was homecoming attendant, I got married, I had my baby. Then, my dad got sick and died from melanoma (and) I had five staph infections. I had monthly trips to Denver for treatment; each time, they had to un-cement the rod, remove the rod, bake the rod to remove the infection and then put it back in.”
As Wooten’s world was darkening in 2010 and 2011, another young athlete, Brenna Huckaby, learned she, too, had osteosarcoma and was fighting for her life.
“I was doing gymnastics. I had knee pain and got X-rays. I was treated in Texas. I didn’t handle chemo, so my only option was amputation,” Huckaby said. “For me, I was OK with it, because I wanted it to end. I didn’t want to be sick anymore.”
Huckaby had to complete nine months of chemotherapy to ensure the tumor was gone once her leg had been amputated. The treatment and the process of adapting to a prosthetic limb took a toll, so her hospital, MD Anderson arranged for Huckaby to travel to Steamboat Springs for therapeutic skiing to help with her rehabilitation.
“After you have a major change like losing a leg, life is completely different. Everything requires extra steps, like putting your leg on and exerting so much energy,” Huckaby said.” I went on a ski trip and learned how to snowboard for rehabilitation purposes. Snowboarding was like being on a balance beam.”
And the former competitive gymnast was good at it. She competed to become a member of the U.S. Paralympic Team and the best adaptive snowboarder in the world.
As Huckaby adapted to her prosthetic limb and reclaimed her status as an elite athlete, Wooten continued to struggle.
“I was a mess. My marriage failed. My family was broken. Then, after the divorce, I had financial trouble. It never seemed like there was going to be a light at the end of the tunnel,” Wooten said. “I felt like I was alone.”
The positive girl who had survived cancer swallowed a handful of pills seeking to end her pain forever through suicide.
When she opened her eyes in the hospital after her suicide attempt, the first person Wooten recalls speaking with was the volunteer tasked with monitoring her to prevent another suicide attempt.
“I am Amanda Wooten. The girl who tried to kill herself is not me. I am sorry you have to be here away from your family watching me for my stupidity,” is what Wooten recalled saying to the attendant.
Today, Wooten is staying strong. She has reconnected with her sister and shares custody of her daughter, Rylie. However, her leg has been opened eight times for follow-up surgeries as a result of the recurring infections that, two years ago, forced doctors to replace the rod.
During this year’s Whittle the Wood Rendezvous in Craig Wooten was working in her new job as an information specialist with the Craig Chamber of Commerce when she fell in the long grass loosening the rod in her leg.
“I knew it was done,” Wooten said.
An X-ray and follow-up with her doctors in Denver confirmed her leg would need more reconstruction. After much thought, Wooten made a decision she had put off for 17 years.
“I decided to cut my own leg off. This was a long time in coming,” Wooten said.
“She’s given it a lot of thought, and we’ll continue to take good care of her,” Kelly said. “She has begun meeting with people to support her to get her through this process and get to a new normal for Amanda.”
At her darkest, Wooten was isolated as she suffered from deep emotional and physical pain. This time, she’s assembled a support crew, including her sister, her daughter and her best friend, Brandi Sanchez.
“We are sticking together. I’ve set up a Go-Fund-Me. We are halfway to raising $5,000 to help Amanda with travel, food and a few perks to give her reasons to remember why she loves life,” Sanchez said.
Wooten’s family also is rallying behind her.
As someone who has lost a limb to osteosarcoma, Huckaby has insight to the next phase in Wooten’s journey.
“It’s going to be a big change,” Huckaby said. “The first year was really rough, coming from an athletic background, it was a shock. Keep pushing yourself and making baby steps every day. Start small, and be patient.”
The two women have survived osteosarcoma by adopting positive attitudes and taking strength from family, friends, their medical teams and the community when they were struggling.
“This community is amazing for support,” Wooten said. “I wanted to walk back into Craig after my surgery in September, but I’ve learned that’s not going to happen right away, so I’ll hop back into Craig.”
In an effort to “own” her condition rather than letting it define her, Wooten is setting new goals, including a return to her former hobby of hunting.
Huckaby also has big plans and is preparing to compete for a place on the 2018 Winter Paralympics snowboard team.
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