Finding a Positive Mindset to Navigate My Limb Loss Journey


My name is Shyrl Richards. I’m a wife, mother, and grandmother, avid runner, and lover of outdoor activities. I am also a person living with limb loss. 

While there are over two million people in the U.S. alone living with limb loss/difference and another 28 million at risk for amputation surgery, I never imagined that I’d be one of them. Like so many others, I’ve had my fair share of ups and downs during this life-changing journey. But I am a firm believer that with the right mindset, a strong support system, and a prosthetic device that allows you to get back to the things you enjoy doing, people can find a way to turn this into a positive experience that allows them to forge ahead living a happy and fulfilling life without limits.

My Limb Loss Story

The road to my amputation began after tearing my right posterior tibial tendon during a run. My procedure to repair the tear was performed in November 2015, and while the first-week post-op went smoothly, my health took a turn for the worst when a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) blood clot formed in my leg and created a myriad of serious complications. Within a matter of days, I developed compartment syndrome, my right heel became necrotic, and infection soon set in. The next few months of my life became a series of surgeries to address the new or recurring issues that presented.

In the spring of 2016, my doctors cut away the affected tissue along with most of my bone to remove the infection and reconstructed my right heel using thigh muscle and a skin graft from my hip. While this procedure finally fixed the infection and allowed me to walk again, the intense pain in my right leg never let up. Over the next five years, I underwent countless additional surgeries to try and improve my quality of life or alleviate the constant pain.

Following the complications from my surgery, I always knew that amputation could be the last option. Once we had exhausted every other alternative, my husband, doctor, and I assembled a list of the pros and cons to help determine what to do next. The only negative we could come up with was that I would be missing a part of my leg, making it clear that if I wanted to finally get back to living my life and stop the pain, removing part of the limb was the best path forward. 

Learning to Accept, Prepare and Adapt to a Different Way of Life

With my below-knee amputation scheduled for August 10, 2021, the first thing my husband and I did was create a “circle of support” list of about eight close friends outside of our family to tell ahead of time. Next, we started making necessary modifications to our home that would ensure a smooth transition for me post-surgery. The last (and smartest) thing I did ahead of my amputation was arrange in-home care, which not only allowed me to recover comfortably in my own environment but also ensured that everything I needed to help me adjust was specific to my home. 

Many people are faced with an amputation suddenly, which is an incredibly difficult thing to process. For me, it meant that while I would lose a part of my leg, I’d soon be able to start living a life I loved again! When I looked at what I would gain in comparison to what I was losing, I knew my life was going to drastically improve, and I would soon be able to get back to doing what I enjoyed. I am confident that my positive attitude, great support system, and desire to start living without limits again were what kept me on a successful road to recovery.

Getting Back to Living My Life to the Fullest

Once I was fully recovered, I was eager to learn how to live positively with my limb loss, and to me, that started with finding a prosthetic device that let me do all the things that made me feel like myself again. However, finding a fit was easier said than done. I tried multiple socket systems, which allowed me to move, but I felt like I was lugging around an extra appendage. I began to accept that what I was feeling and experiencing was going to be my new norm until my prosthetist recommended I try Xtremity. This socket was not only more comfortable, but I was able to finally run and resume all of the other hobbies I enjoyed before my amputation.

The XtremityTT is a first-of-its-kind transtibial socket for people with limb loss with rapid fabrication capabilities that can effectively be reshaped using heat for future adjustability. This device has also saved me hours of time, as my traditional socket fittings required many lengthy office visits. Another common issue with limb loss is that our limb size changes over time – this can result in discomfort or require getting entirely new sockets just from gaining or losing a few pounds. By finding a socket technology that can change easily with me, I now have the confidence and mobility to do all of my favorite activities.

I put on my socket every morning at 5:30 and wear it comfortably all day until I remove it for bed around 9:00 in the evening. I run three miles a day and regularly hike, bike, and snorkel in it too. I’m even planning to try pickleball this summer with my family and figure out a way to start ice skating again! Having the capability to do everything I did before my amputation has been huge in helping me maintain a positive attitude and optimistic outlook on my experience living with limb loss. I’m happy, healthy, and living my best life—what more can someone ask for?

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Navigating limb loss for yourself or for someone you love takes patience and support. Here are the five things that helped me find a positive mindset throughout my own experience that I hope you’ll consider if you’re on a similar path. 

  1. Give Yourself Grace and Find Acceptance: There will be many tears and emotions, but it’s important to keep telling yourself that this isn’t the end of the world—it is just new and uncharted territory that will take time to adapt to.
  2. Circle of Support: You can’t do this on your own. Look for encouragement and support from your family, friends, and team of medical professionals to help you mentally, physically, and emotionally prepare.
  3. Be Prepared: Making necessary adaptations to your place of residence, entrusting a support system, and setting up a recovery plan that you’re comfortable with ahead of time will give you peace of mind as you approach the procedure. 
  4. Find a Prosthetic Device that Meets Your Needs: Have honest and open conversations with your prosthetist to ensure you’re getting a comfortable and durable socket that allows you to get back to doing what you love.
  5. Live a Life Without Limitation: Remind yourself each day of what you overcame and just how capable you are of living the life you’ve always dreamed of.

By: Shyrl Richards

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