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Diabetic amputees find support in numbers (12-9-99)

When Ruby Flores lost a toe to diabetes six months ago, the San Antonio real estate agent sat in her closet and looked at the high heels she would never be able to wear again, and battled her feelings of disfigurement.

It was the second time in six years Flores had a toe amputated. It would have been easy for her to sink into depression, but with the help of a newly formed diabetic amputee support group, she is learning to face the disease and the loss of her toes.

The support group is the idea of Lawrence Harkless, M.D., Tara Deavers, M.D., David Armstrong, M.D. and John Steinberg, M.D., of the Department of Orthopaedics Podiatry Service at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. The group members, all of whom are diabetic foot amputees, meet at the University Health Systemís new Texas Diabetes Institute (TDI) every month for a two-hour session that includes individual testimonials and guest speakers who provide needed information ranging from transportation issues to qualifying for government disability assistance.

Group president Alberto Carranza has battled diabetes for more than 35 years.

A veteran of more than 20 operations, including bypass surgery and the amputation of all the toes on his right foot, Carranza has a motto that he shares with other membersó"you canít give up."

"We have people who come to the support group meetings who wanted to give up," Carranza said. "Now they are out doing things like working in the garden. They have support here. They can tell us how they feel and we have been through it."

The group has benefited Dr. Steinberg and other physicians who attend the sessions by teaching them just how much an amputation can impact a patientís life.

"One of the most significant things we learned from listening to the group was just how traumatic the hospital stay was for them," Dr. Steinberg said. "Part of the concern for patients was not knowing what was going to happen next."

In an effort to ease those concerns, the support group is instituting a type of "buddy" program that will allow its members to visit new amputees in the hospital to help them through the first few days following an operation.

Support group information is available from Sabrina Kallies, RN, podiatry case manager, at (210) 358-7710.

Contact: Will Sansom or Heather Feldman