Knoxville man gives others the chance to walk

October 21, 2008|By JANET HEIM

KNOXVILLE -- Dave Pershing knows firsthand the value of a positive attitude. That attitude has helped the Knoxville resident overcome many obstacles since losing both legs above the knee as the result of a nighttime highway construction accident in 2003.

Pershing was lucky. He said there are hundreds of accidents like that each year and most are fatal.

Following treatment and rehabilitation, he returned home, where he was fitted with C-Leg prosthetics. The state-of-the-art limbs are computerized, programmed specifically for the user.

The prosthetics were ready for Pershing in November 2003, but because of health issues, training was delayed until later in December of that year.

The technology of the C-Legs require the wearer to use their diaphragm to initiate movements. Pershing's training came to a standstill after he suffered a cardiac incident due to diaphragm compressions.


His prostheses, which cost $50,000 per pair, were relegated to a closet while Pershing found other means of mobility.

A motorized wheelchair and power utility vehicle allow him to get around his yard and his Knoxville home, which has since been adapted for him. A specially equipped van with hand controls gives him the independence to drive on his own.

For more than three years, Pershing, 65, said he was "haunted" knowing the prostheses were going unused. While attending a support group at Adventist Rehabilitation Hospital near Gaithersburg, Md., he learned of the Limbs for Life Foundation.

The nonprofit organization, which was founded in 1995, provides financial assistance to hundreds of amputees a year in the United States. It also collects used limbs for distribution in the U.S. and developing countries, according to a press release.

Pershing made up a list of pros and cons for learning to use the prostheses compared with his current state of mobility.

He determined the top reasons were to be "physically and cosmetically presentable," as well as being able to continue with the active lifestyle he loved of fishing, hunting and driving his powerboat.

The list in favor of using the prostheses was small, giving Pershing the motivation he needed to donate the C-Legs.

"It set me in a frame of mind to part with them," Pershing said.

He was gratified to learn that a 40-year-old woman who lost her leg in a car accident and a 60-year-old man with diabetes are able to walk again thanks to Pershing's donation, according to Limbs for Life.

Pershing, a retired civil engineer, said both recipients did not have the means to purchase costly prosthetics like he did. He is hoping the donation enables them to get out in public and means they won't have to endure the looks of strangers to which Pershing is exposed.

He said he made a conscious decision to focus on what was ahead of him after the accident, instead of dwelling on the problems he faced. Pershing said he was blessed to have had the use of both legs for more than 60 years, as opposed to having been handicapped his entire life.

"The old saying is 'You can do far more than you ever imagined.' You do it just because you have to," Pershing said of his determination.

He and his wife, Beverly, have two grown daughters and five grandchildren. He looks forward to "walking" his beagle, General, three to four times a day and spending time with his grandchildren.

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