June 22, 2018

Bikers Follow Road to Peer Mentorship

by Chris Mosley, patient advisor

July 2002, A young couple in love cruises on a classic Harley Davidson Road King. 

Under the ocean blue sky laced with popcorn clouds, Dave and Wendy Ramirez enjoy the warm breeze brushing against their skin. All is right with the world until that fateful moment. 

 “When I was flying in the air, it felt like I was moving in slow motion,” says Wendy.

A car had crossed the double yellow line, crashing head-on with the helpless motorcycle.  The impact threw both riders.

“I remember seeing my leg go past me in an unusual angle,” recalls Dave.

The couple would call out to each other in distress until paramedics arrived, not knowing the severity of the others’ injuries.

After being flown to U of M Hospital by helicopter, Wendy and Dave would wake up to a new way of life.  Both had their right leg amputated. 

“I was terrified,” Wendy recounts, "To make matters worse, “There was no support group, no one to talk to.”

Sure, they had expert physicians and physical therapists to help – but let’s be honest, they’re good with the X’s and O’s, not necessarily the emotional ebbs and flows of life.

Like dealing with phantom pain - real pain that seems to be coming from the part of the limb that is no longer there.  Or how to handle public perception, like getting used to stares and off-handed remarks.  

In 2002 when Dave and Wendy’s accident occurred, there was no PFCC, OPE, or a peer mentor program to get first-hand advice on how to cope with such a life-changing event. 

So when The University of Michigan Community Amputee Network (U-CAN) came along, Dave and Wendy made it their life’s mission to become peer mentors and help others.

“U-CAN is a network of people with limb loss or limb difference.  They are able to learn from one another and feel comfortable.  They laugh and cry together,” says Carla Vollmer, Limb Loss Coordinator, “and there are many things amputees struggle with like losing their independence, to do even the basic things.” 

“We became closer because we had to depend on each other,” Wendy remembers. 

But not everyone has that kind of support.  That’s why Dave and Wendy are so invested in peer mentoring. 

Oftentimes, they’ll visit amputees who have just gotten out of surgery, before they’re even fitted for a prosthetic,  when they’re at their lowest.

Although the couple doesn’t diminish the challenges ahead for patients, they advise them to take baby steps.  Celebrate the small victories. One victory will lead to another.

“I think it gives them hope when they see us WALK in,” says Wendy.  “I’m so glad to give back.”

“The patients are thankful for them, for their insight and advice,” Vollmer adds. 

So, if they’re not enjoying their beautiful grandchildren, you can bet Wendy and Dave are on the open road, still in love, still living, still cruising.

“We are living proof that there’s life after an accident and amputation," says Wendy Ramirez.