By Savanah Mandeville • Photos by Tristan Robinett
Nothing makes Jim Wysocki come alive more than sunshine and fresh air at MidAmerica Outdoors, an off-road park in Jay, Oklahoma.
“MidAmerica is where all the people who own UTVs and ATVs go to ride around. It’s almost 1,000 acres of trails,” Wysocki said. “It’s always fun when the ground is really muddy and to watch them throw rooster tails of mud off those back tires. It’s a riot, it is.”
Few would guess someone who spends so much time in the great outdoors does it all on a prosthetic leg, but that’s the case for Wysocki.
Wysocki’s right leg was amputated seven inches below the knee September 14, 2018, but the story really begins in 2010 when both his feet were injured in an on-the-job industrial accident.
“When all was said and done, my feet in the x-rays looked like an ad for True Value Hardware Store!” he chuckled. “But it worked! They carried me.”
Some years later, Wysocki was diagnosed with diabetes and began to experience complications in his feet. Thus, began a series of 34 surgeries and the eventual amputation.
“I wasn’t prepared emotionally for the amputation,” he said. “I don’t care how much you talk about it ahead of time, when you wake up and you throw the sheets off and see your left leg is there and then there’s this big, bandaged-up stump … I was absolutely devastated.”
Wysocki described the winter months to follow as a very dark time, but he used the power of prayer and the determination instilled in him as a child growing up on a farm in California to get his spirit back.
“You come to terms with the fact that you can’t put it back on, so you learn to live with it. I decided I wasn’t going to give up,” he said. “You also have to maintain a spiritual connection. I’m a very spiritual, focused person, and God has been a tremendous influence in my life.”
That winter, Wysocki became acquainted with Dave and Beverly Helms, owners of Grand Prosthetics & Orthotics LightWeight Artificial Limbs & Braces in Grove. The Helmses, along with their son, Andy, have over 100 years of combined experience in high-quality, custom-built prosthetics.
“They’re fabulous people because, no matter what, they’re moral support and they figure out how to make the best fit for you,” Wysocki said.
With a new leg and guidance from the Helmses, Wysocki was ready to get his life back.
“Vacuuming the house is good therapy. You’re going back and forth, and it’s safe except when you knock stuff off the wife’s curio table, then it’s no longer safe,” he said with a laugh.
Before long, he noticed the grass needed mowing, so he mowed it. He wanted to visit a buddy, so he made up his mind to drive.
“It’s mind over matter,” he said. “There were setbacks. There were days I spent more time getting up off the ground than walking, but you’ve got to get back up.”
Almost two years out from the amputation, Wysocki said he owes a debt of gratitude to the people who’ve gotten him through the worst. His wife and daughter provide support and inspiration daily; he described his doctor, Dr. Stephen Morrison, as a “miracle worker” and one particularly special nurse, Dawn, as “an absolute angel.” The Helmses of Grand Prosthetics are “some of the finest people you’ll come across,” and his neighbors, Jason and Gayla Robinette, have “hearts as big as Texas.”
Wysocki has an incredible support system, but at the end of the day, he said, “Nobody else can do it for you.
“You’ve got to have faith in yourself. You’ve got to believe in yourself. You have to make a choice to either get in or get out, because the world goes by whether you’re in it or not. It’s your choice.”