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Military inStep - A Publication of the Amputee Coalition in Partnership with the U.S. Army Amputee Patient Care Program. 2005.
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The Power of Peer Support

if you or a loved one has recently had an amputation or will in the future, it is certainly a time of high stress, wory, fear and confusion.

Two lower-limb amputees sitting and talkingYou will certainly have some doubts and questions about your or your loved one’s future – doubts and questions about working, raising a family, maintaining a relationship, caring for yourself or your loved one, and doing basic daily living activities. Other questions may be more technical or focused on immediate concerns:

  • Is the pain terrible?
  • How long will I or my loved one be in the hospital?
  • Will it hurt a lot after the surgery?
  • How does the artificial limb (prosthesis) stay on?

So where do you turn for information, guidance and emotional support to help you through the numerous questions, decisions, choices and alternatives you will face as you enter this new path in life? Who can give you insight into the world you have entered and demonstrate that life goes on and can again become happy, full and productive? In many cases, only another amputee who has experienced a similar situation, had similar questions, and faced similar decisions can really provide the answers you need. That is the power of peer support.

Peers come in many different forms and at various times throughout our lives. They are friends, neighbors, family members and others we turn to for help along the way. They provide support, assistance, guidance, information, resources and, most importantly, at times, an ear to listen to our deepest fears and concerns. At the Amputee Care Centers, we introduce our patients and their families to a list of authorized peer visitors who begin visitation as soon as patients arrive at the centers. Visitation only occurs at the request of the service member or family. Our visitors are approved by the Amputee Care Center chain of command and are all certified and trained members in accordance with Amputee Coalition of America guidelines. They listen and offer knowledge from their own experience so that we might learn valuable lessons without making the same mistakes and so that we might gain confidence in our own ability to make sound decisions. When we are faced with a life-altering event such as amputation, a peer with a similar background brings extremely valuable insight to the new situation. By speaking to another person who has gone through similar circumstances and made the adjustment successfully, you can begin to unravel the knots of fear, doubt, worry and confusion that have you tied up and questioning whether or not life will ever be enjoyable and productive again.

A peer visit from an experienced amputee can be most helpful before amputation surgery. A peer can answer your questions regarding such issues as pain, mobility, artificial limbs, adaptive devices, services you may require after your release from the hospital, and local resources that can help you. A peer visit can also help alleviate your feeling of being alone in your situation with no one to talk to who can truly understand you and your feelings. Because only another amputee can fully understand the amputation experience and recovery process, peers can help new amputees jump-start their transition to a new life by sharing information, by serving as models of success, and by offering understanding and support.

If you are interested in speaking with another amputee, let anyone on your Amputee Care Team know that you would desire a peer visitation. These experienced peer visitors are available to provide encouragement to new amputees and to connect amputees to information sources. Our staff will attempt to match you with someone in our community of the same gender and age group with similar limb differences.

Two military men sitting and talkingOnce service members return home, there are local amputee support groups that are a valuable form of peer support. These groups are a great resource for any amputee, whether you are a new amputee looking for networking opportunities and information or an experienced amputee who has come full circle and are interested in sharing your experience with those just beginning their journey. Because support groups may have several members, they have the ability to offer amputees different experiences and viewpoints. Group members may have lost their limbs for many different reasons, may use various types of prosthetic equipment or adaptive devices, and may be able to suggest various approaches to the same problem. Most groups offer educational/informational meetings with guest speakers who can address various topics of concern to amputees, and they usually provide a chance for people to ask questions, discuss issues and ask for input from other members. Many groups have books, videos and written material available that cover a wide range of subjects related to limb loss. Support groups offer a new amputee the chance to gain the experience, confidence and skills necessary to move forward through the rehabilitation process. Call the Amputee Coalition (888/267-5669) for names and contact information for support groups in your area or visit the Amputee Coalition Web site and click on “Support Group Listings” to locate the support group nearest you.

If you find yourself at home and do not have access to a local support group or are physically or emotionally unable to attend a support group, the Amputee Coalition offers a professionally facilitated online support group as an additional resource for the Amputee Coalition National Peer Network. Or perhaps you would like support in addition to what you are receiving from your local support group. Either way, the online support group can be accessed via the Amputee Coalition Web site at www.amputee-coalition.org.

Whether your peer contact comes from an individual or a local amputee support group, the benefits are extraordinary. Peers can also serve as a model of success for others involved in the lives of new amputees and provide them with the same knowledge and experience they do amputees. They assist amputees and all of these other individuals while, in turn, helping them also become models of success. That is the power of peer support.

— by Becky Bruce, Amputee Coalition Outreach Information Specialist

If you would like help finding another amputee to talk to or help finding a support group in your area, call the Amputee Coalition at 888/267-5669. Also, if you would like to become a peer visitor for other amputees or to start an amputee support group in your area, the Amputee Coalition can help you get started.

 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Amputee Coalition, the Department of the Army, the Army Medical Department, or any other agency of the US Government.


Back to Top Last updated: 12/07/2014
© 2005. Amputee Coalition. Local reproduction for use by Amputee Coalition constituents is permitted as long as this copyright information is included. Organizations or individuals wishing to reprint this article in other publications, including other World Wide Web sites must contact the Amputee Coalition for permission to do so.