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No Stopping This Young Man’s Dreams

Feb 4, 2015

jacob-one_webIn the prime of his young adult life, Jacob M. was a strapping 203-pound body builder. Working out nearly every day, Jacob was a budding star in weight-lifting competitions and body building contests. His career plans included working for the Polk County Sheriff’s Department as a deputy, a goal he’s had for several years.

Nobody ever expects to be an amputee, least of all Jacob, but cancer doesn’t play favorites. His journey began when he noticed a bump on his left leg above his ankle. “It was swollen, but it never hurt or bothered me. I am very athletic, so I never thought I would have cancer,” he said.

Jacob’s mom, a nurse, urged him to see a doctor. Eventually he was sent to Iowa City for an MRI and a biopsy where he was diagnosed with a rare soft-tissue cancer, myxoid liposarcoma, a cancer that occurs in less than one percent of Americans.

“So I thought, go big or go home,” he said drily, explaining that doctors suggested he first try chemotherapy and radiation. But there were no guarantees of success and even if Jacob was able to overcome the cancer, he potentially could have a foot that wasn’t fully functional.

“I didn’t want to go through chemotherapy; I didn’t want to go through radiation, so let’s get the amputation over with now,” Jacob said.

The below-knee surgery took place in July 2014. Jacob can tell you exactly how many months and days ago it was.

With a life centered on athletics – high school football player and track star, body builder and weight lifter – Jacob practiced patience, discipline and dedication. He took that determination to overcome his limb loss. “They told me after surgery that I shouldn’t be back in the gym for at least six to eight weeks. I told them I would be there in three weeks and I was cleared to go in three. I wanted to prove a point to the doctors,” he said. “Five weeks after surgery, I entered a bench press competition and I came in second place.”

Jacob had a great support system to help him get through his recovery period including family, friends, and co-workers at the Polk County Sheriff’s Department, where he had been working in the jail sector part time.

“My first thought when I had an amputation is that I wouldn’t be able to get into law enforcement and that has been the goal for a few years now. I got a call from the chief of Polk County – I was on the list to get hired in December – and he gave me a call two days before surgery and assured me that everything is still a go. They knew my personality and they knew it wasn’t going to stop me from anything.”

He also got a boost from his prosthetist, Nick Ackerman, APO’s Director of Prosthetics. Nick’s background as a double amputee and champion wrestler appealed to Jacob. “Nick has inspired me,” he said. “I’m getting back to running, weight training and self-defense training. Nick has showed me that anything is possible.”

Even though Jacob showed remarkable resilience getting back to the gym and entering a bench press competition after not only losing weight, but muscle too, using a prosthesis didn’t come as easily as he thought.

“I got my prosthesis after about three months. There was quite a bit of a learning curve. I expected to hop right into it and be able to walk, but I didn’t. I used crutches for quite a while afterward. It definitely took a lot longer than I expected it to. I want things to happen now. But I’ve learned that it is a process. My physical therapist said getting back to where I was is a marathon, not a sprint. But she got me running again and doing some line drills and what not – she helps me out in a lot of things.

“Nick also explained to me that it takes a long time for an amputee’s residual limb to mature and to shrink down to its final size – there is just a lot of time involved.”

To keep pace with Jacob’s very active lifestyle, Nick fitted him with Ossur’s Re-Flex Rotate Foot and seal-in suspension. The Re-Flex Rotate Foot is ideal for moderate to very active wearers. Its spring and shock absorption result in a lighter feeling, comfortable foot with a natural gait progression resulting in less fatigue and pressure on the sound side and lower back. The seal-in suspension means less twisting in the sock and minimized pistoning (vertical stretching).

“The gym was the first thing I started doing, working on my balance and putting more pressure on it and trying to get as comfortable with it as I could, as fast as I could,” Jacob said. “I’ve entered a couple of shows. I don’t like to say body builder. I eat according to my physique and work in the weight room a lot. I lost a ton of weight and muscle – the day of surgery I was 203 pounds and five weeks after surgery (for the powerlift) I was 177 pounds and now I’m back to 200.”

Said Jacob: “I never doubted myself. I had a ton of support and everybody that was around me brought me back up to where I needed to be.”