Military News

Friday, March 27, 2015

Face of Defense: Civilian Amputee Inspires Military Patients

By Lori Newman
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, March 27, 2015 – The first quadruple amputee to receive treatment at the Center for the Intrepid here is a female retired police officer and the wife of a retired Coast Guardsman.

Donna Lowery, who hails from Corpus Christi, Texas, lost her limbs over a year ago due to a bacterial infection that almost took her life. But today, she’s surviving and thriving –- and inspiring the center’s military patients.

“I truly believe that God has brought me to this time in my life, to reach out to some of these young men and women who have suffered overseas while defending their country,” she said.

‘She Inspires us to Smile’

“She is never a negative person, ever. She inspires us to smile,” said Army Staff Sgt. Angel Figueroa, who is also a patient at the Center for the Intrepid. “She is a person with so many disabilities, and she doesn’t show anger or hurt or anything like that. She is actually happy to be alive. She tries to make the best of her situation, and that’s a good inspiration for all of us.”

Lowery said she’s humbled to be at the center. “I just cannot compare my situation to what these young kids have gone through,” she said. “The loss and the trauma they have suffered -- it’s been such a blessing for me to be here and to be able to talk to them.”

Lowery said she’s grateful “for this remarkable place and these incredible people,” calling her experience a blessing.

A Mysterious Illness

A few days after Mother’s Day in 2013, Lowery’s husband noticed she wasn’t acting like herself; she was incoherent, so he brought her to the emergency room.

“I don’t even remember leaving the house or being in the ER,” she said, thinking back to that fateful day. “The doctors didn’t know what to do.”

She was jaundiced, her kidneys failed, her liver shut down and her blood pressure dropped. She was in a coma for more than three weeks. Her family flew to Texas to say goodbye, because they didn’t think she would live.

Lowery survived, but when she awoke all four of her limbs were gone. The medications she was given kept her alive, but at a terrible cost. Her limbs had to be amputated due to a loss of blood flow to her extremities.

“I saw that the one [arm] was gone, I immediately looked at the other one and it was gone,” she said sadly. “Then my husband pulled back the covers and said, ’Babe, I need to show you something,’ and I saw my legs were gone.”

At that point, Lowery said she was confused because she didn’t know where she was. She couldn’t talk due to a tracheotomy and she was experiencing phantom pain in her extremities even though her limbs were not there.

“I just remember waking up with my husband there and this doctor is standing over me and no limbs all of a sudden,” Lowery said. “I’m wiggling limbs around and I’m not seeing anything moving. I’m freaking out.”

She said, like flicking a switch, her “faith kicked on.” She said she told God “this is your problem, because this is way bigger than I can handle.”

Prosthetics, Therapy and Faith

She received treatment at three different community hospitals before coming to the CFI in June 2014. Since then, using prosthetics, the 58-year-old has made remarkable strides to regain her mobility.

Lowery and her husband stay in the Fisher House across from the CFI. During the week, her mornings are spent in occupational therapy and afternoons in physical and occupational therapy.

“A lot of people pity someone like me who has lost all four limbs. People ask me how I get through this, but I have a very strong faith,” Lowery said. Plus, she added, “this place is amazing. Having everybody in one facility, working together as a team sets this place apart from any other facility.”

As for Lowery’s future, she says she doesn’t know what she will do in this new chapter of her life. But, she said she will continue to advocate for other amputees and is considering becoming an occupational therapist.

“The hardest thing is feeling like you have lost your independence, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” she said. “No matter what happens, you can never lose your faith. We are all put here for a purpose.”

Brooke Army Medical Center here has cared for more than 5,200 wounded service members over the past decade.

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