Larry needs new legs

Liz and Larry McMaster

A GoFundMe campaign launched for Bothwell man

Kathy Ehman/The Independent

When Larry and Liz McMaster need it most, they are discovering the heartwarming truth that kindness is returned to those who also give it.

The Bothwell couple are well loved and appreciated for helping others in their community says Jenn Geroux, who started the Go Fund Me campaign under the title Larry Needs New Legs earlier this year. The goal is to raise $25,000 for medical expenses and to purchase prosthetic legs for Larry, who has had both legs surgically removed above the knee in the past five years.

Five years ago Larry underwent surgery on his left leg for blood clots posing a risk of stroke or heart attack. Clots had also been detected in his legs and arms.

The surgery was unsuccessful and in July, 2019, constant, agonizing pain in that leg led him to agree to have the leg amputated below his knee.

“We’ve got this,” Liz said and the couple focused on Larry’s healing and mobility.

His recovery was going well until Larry lost his balance while on crutches and fell. Staples were torn in the incision and a dreadful infection was exposed.

Back in London’s Victoria Hospital, in December, 2019, another amputation was performed to above Larry’s left knee.

The couple had an unexpected visit from the Head of Infectious Diseases who told them two infections were “floating around” in Larry’s bloodstream. Only one of them was treatable. The second infection could only be controlled by amputations.

It was referred to as a “below the waist infection,” says Liz, originating in Larry’s bowel.

“Anybody who goes into the hospital and has surgery has a chance of getting it,” Liz says. Details were vague, but waiver forms signed pre-op excuse hospitals from responsibility for such an infection.

It would remain in Larry’s blood, with the potential of recurring in another wound.

A second bypass surgery to address the clots in Larry’s right leg, in 2020, was at first successful. The wound was dressed and monitored for infection with daily visits from the Victoria Order of Nurses.

In December that year, the infection reappeared in Larry’s right foot, and he lost first his big toe, then his other toes and half his foot.

For three years, daily visits from VONs and Liz’s “mother bear” care kept Larry’s recovery moving forward in fits and starts, with the resistant infection appearing and subsiding.

In 2021 Larry had a minor stroke when the blood clot in one of his arms broke free. His recovery was complete and his sense of humour stayed with him during the stroke.

“I think my wife poisoned me,” he mumbled to paramedics. He was released from the Chatham Hospital the same night, with no effects of the stroke evident.

In April, 2021, Liz had a heart attack and was rushed to London by ambulance. The blockages behind her heart were deemed inoperable. Medication and a restriction to lifting no more than five pounds are her ongoing treatment. Her condition complicates the couple’s life further.

Larry has led an active physical life and his surgeries have not stopped him from helping Liz with cooking and any other household chore he can manage. Their mutual dependence only serves to strengthen the love and commitment they so obviously share for one another.

It’s crucial for Larry to get out, with the aid of a motorized scooter. He has regular stops at the post office, pharmacy and grocery store, and to visit other businesses in Bothwell.

This February, Larry’s right leg was amputated above the knee.

After six days on his back in London, he felt “cooped up” and desperate to get out of the hospital. With no bed available in Chatham, he requested to be released home under the capable care of Liz and the VON.

His recovery has been similar to previous amputations, but with new challenges to his confidence and mobility.

While he still had his right leg, Larry explains, he could stop himself from falling if he leans too far forward. With both legs gone, he’s lost that balance.

After his disastrous fall on crutches prompting the further spread of the resistant infection, he and Liz cannot risk another fall.

For Liz and Larry, it’s just another challenge, and they laugh through some of the painful and awkward moments.

“We’re doing it. If we don’t laugh about it we’ll cry,” Liz says and the couple chuckle as they recall moments when humour successfully banished negativity.

Liz taught herself how to prepare the stump of Larry’s left leg for a prosthetic, manipulating the flesh and applying tensor bandages so that as his leg healed it would fit the cup of a prosthetic leg. She will repeat the process with his right leg.

The VONs hadn’t received much training along those lines and Liz says they have also learned from Larry’s recovery. Liz doesn’t allow scissors to be used to remove dressings, as even a small wound could be an opening for the resistant infection.

It will take 10 weeks for prosthetic legs to be made. Each device has a knee and ankle joint and the cost, beyond what is covered under medical benefits, will be in excess of $8,000 for each leg.

Another 10 weeks of learning to stand, balance and walk on them will require an extended stay in London for rehabilitation, progressing from standing, to walking between parallel bars and climbing stairs.

He will continue to use his chair and scooter as well, but for Larry, the rugged physical rehab and the tough mental effort of learning how to walk again will be rewarded.

“Just to stand up,” Larry says. “I want to be able to walk through that front door.”

He wants to get himself in and out of the couple’s vehicle, to be more independent physically and in that way help Liz, who has her own limitations because of her heart condition.

Larry wants their grandchildren, Ms. Geroux’s children, “his girl” Lily, 11, and grandson Aiden, 14, to see him walk again, to witness his determination and success.

The couple, together 15 years, restated their vows after ten years of marriage, in a quiet ceremony. It had been a tough year but their love has never faltered.

“When we said our vows, we said ‘in sickness and in health,’” Liz says. “Well, we’ve had the poor health, now let’s get on with the ‘health’ part.”