The day Katie Jenkins had her right leg cut off was the end of nearly a decade of pain and the beginning of her rebirth, so to speak.
And like a newborn she had many things to learn — mentally, emotionally and physically. Today, the former pharmaceutical rep has a new job, a new outlook on life and two new right legs. Yes, you read that right — she has two right legs.
Jenkins has a prosthetic leg for her daily activities, but today she will get to feel the wind on her face when she takes a run with her new prosthetic blade on the track where she honed her running skills in high school.
Jenkins will try her new blade at 1 p.m. on the Daniel Boone High School track. She’s so excited and went public with the event on her Facebook profile and invited all her friends to show up and watch.
The event leading up to her amputation happened on a rainy day nine years ago — 9:05 p.m. on Nov. 10, 2009.
Jenkins was driving from Gray to Johnson City for her fourth date with the man she would marry two years down the road. A drunk driver headed in the opposite direction crossed over into oncoming traffic and slammed into her car.
She woke up in the hospital to find her body was damaged and broken, particularly both legs.
“I said, ‘OK, legs can be fixed,’” she said recently, recalling when she first woke up in the hospital and was told about her injuries. Little did she know, much of the next nine years would be spent in agony just getting through each day. She was alive, but she wasn’t living.
Before The Crash
Jenkins grew up in Fall Branch, and as a teen, she learned to deal with frustration and anger by running. As a result, running became her passion.
She ran track at Daniel Boone and attended East Tennessee State University on a track scholarship.
After college, Jenkins kept up her running and had a particularly favorite route. It started at the Wellness Center and looped around to Knob Creek Road to Sunset and back to the Wellness Center.
“When I would drive by and see people running, it was like someone took out my heart and stomped on it,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes.
She talked to a local orthopedic surgeon about amputation, but was told, ‘You can’t amputate your leg to run again.’”
That was not the answer Jenkins wanted to hear, and it wasn’t the one she would accept.
Making the Choice
Choosing to have a limb taken off is a big decision, but for Jenkins it was a way to free herself from the debilitating injury she had suffered. She researched types of amputation and selected a surgeon in Oklahoma City to do the procedure.
On Sept. 9, 2017, Jenkins got the last manicure on “righty” as she called her right foot. The next day, she and her family had photos taken of their bare feet, so she would remember what it looked like to have two real feet.
She also posted on her Facebook page, named Ironwoman, a lengthy list of the reasons she made the decision.
“When, the accident occurred my blood supply was ripped away from my talus (the large bone in the ankle that articulates with the tibia of the leg and the calcaneum and navicular bone of the foot.)”
The result was avascular necrosis, which is the death of bone tissue due to a lack of blood supply.
“My ankle joint is severely arthritic, bone on bone and partially collapsed.” Jenkins consulted with 10 orthopedic specialists, researched amputation, ankle replacement and fusions. She joined Facebook support groups to “see how other people were living.”
Some people questioned her decision, but Jenkins decided she wanted her quality of life back. Here’s the list she had in place just days before her amputation:
• I want to be able to work all day and come home and walk and play with Jacob (her son).
• I want to clean my house on a Saturday and not be in bed all day on Sunday from pain.
• I want to live by example. It’s not about the outside but the joy of living life to the fullest.
• I want to walk without a limp.
• I want to run again.
• I want to go on a hike.
• I want to go rock climbing.
• I want to go wake boarding.
• I want to go skiing.
• I want to do a color run.
• I want to play soccer with Jacob in the back yard.
• I want to trust my leg is not going to go out and I will fall because of pain.
• I want to dance my leg off.
• I want to walk down steps (and) not like a 90-year-old.
• I want to trust my leg again.
• I want to be done with having surgery after surgery on a foot that will never get better.
• I want to spend my energy and time with my family and helping others and working.
• I want to spend my personal time off on vacation with my family instead of having surgery.
• I want to spend extra money I have earned on fun things instead of medical bills.
• I want to live my life the best way I know how.
“This is a very personal choice that I am at peace with. God was there during the accident and gave me peace, and He is giving it now,” she said in that Facebook post.
As surgeries go, Jenkins’ amputation was successful. She had what’s called an Ertl amputation.
“Most amputation just cuts the two bones and let them be,” Jenkins said. The Ertl method, developed in the 1920s, “created a bone bridge from lower bone to increase surface area to bear weight on and it makes the amputation stronger.”
There were some difficulties in the healing process and she had several additional surgeries to remove infection and address some nerve issues. But now, all that is behind her and she has her life back.
Her favorite thing to do at the end of the day? Go home and take her leg off.
”To me, it’s beauty. I look down and I feel more sassy that I did 10 years ago because I don’t have that intense pain,” she said.
After Jenkins’ injury, her primary goal was to walk down the aisle and dance at her wedding. Through her perseverance at trying to rehab her right ankle, she was able to to just that. But it came at a price of horrible, debilitating pain.
Now that she’s an amputee, Jenkins has embraced life, and she set a goal of running again. She and her son did just that on a whim recently. She decided at the last minute to run a 5K on her prosthetic leg. They ran, they walked, she carried Jacob part of the way, but they finished — and they were not last.
“My best time in college was 18 minutes for 3.1 miles,” Jenkins said. On that 5K with her son, it took 58 minutes, but the feeling of getting to the finish line was like the old days before the accident.
“There was nothing more exciting than the last tenth of a mile. Obviously we walked and ran, walked and ran. The last tenth of a mile, everything in my body kicked in as if I was a runner again. The emotions, the thought that I had to get to the finish line before the next click of the clock.
“It was the first time I had felt that in years and I felt so alive,” Jenkins said, unable to hold back the emotion as she recalled that run.
It still wasn’t enough to satisfy Jenkins’ desire to really run. As it turned out, she took a job earlier this year at Victory Orthotics. A perk of the job is she can get her prosthetic “tweaked” any time she needs it. It has also led to her being able to obtain a running leg called a blade.
Jenkins will use the blade for the first time today at Daniel Boone High School, where her track running started. She’s excited and scared, but she has faith God will carry her through this process just as she said He’s carried her through the entire journey.