On an average day of patient rounding, Fred Southwick, M.D., a UF College of Medicine professor of medicine and infectious disease specialist, takes 5,000 steps. Years ago, that number wouldn’t have been significant, but after he unexpectedly lost his leg in 2012, Southwick has a new outlook on every step he takes.
“It takes one-third more effort for me to walk than a normal person, but I’m still happy I can do it,” he said.
During his strenuous recovery process, Southwick wasn’t able to connect with a support network for patients undergoing amputation.
“I remember wanting to talk to someone who had an amputation,” he said. “But I didn’t know anyone and my care team didn’t have anyone to put me in contact with.”
Southwick knew the importance of community for recovering patients and the value of learning from someone with similar experiences, so he joined Gator Amps, a local support group affiliated with the Amputee Coalition of America, or ACA. The group meets monthly at UF Health Shands Rehab Hospital and allows amputees to support and learn from each other.
“Gator Amps facilitates opportunities for individuals with limb loss to live life to the fullest, learn from one another and gow as a limb-loss community,” said Becky Piazza, M.S., OTR/L, BCPR, UF Health Shands rRehab Hospital occupational therapy clinical coordinator.
Southwick recently took his Gator Amps membership a step farther and attended the annual national Certified Peer Visitor Training program, held at the Alachua County Senior Recreation Center. As a physician, Southwick has the opportunity to speak with many new amputees, and any time he’s asked to visit a patient in his new role as a certified peer visitor, he proudly takes the extra steps to their room to provide whatever support he can.
Southwick said, “As a peer visitor, I can describe my journey and it helps them know what to expect with theirs. The number one thing is to listen and empathize.” Gator Amps meets at the rehab hospital the first Tuesday of each month from 6 to 8 p.m. For more information, visit UFHealth.org/events/gator-amps-support-group.