Patient Stories: Kimberly Daum

It isn’t often someone can say that a piece of furniture may have saved her life. Yet, three years ago this spring, the day she whacked her foot on a kitchen table leg rushing to answer the phone may have done just that, according to Kimberly Daum. When it happened, aside from the pain, it certainly didn’t seem significant, but running into that piece of furniture is what started a series of events that eventually led Kim to becoming an amputee. At first, she thought she had broken toes, and was put in a boot to heal. She was on her feet 50-60 hours a week as a long term employee of Lowes and it didn’t take long for her to be ready to get out of that boot! After six weeks, still having pain, she had an MRI. Kim got some shocking news – there was no fracture, but she had an invasive mass in her right foot.

A biopsy revealed a rare, aggressive form of cancer called synovial sarcoma that had her surgeons recommending foot amputation. By early July she had done her research on prosthetics and was ready to go. Post surgery necrosis set in and only a week after her initial surgery, Kim found herself a below knee amputee. On top of that, she was still fighting the cancer! This very active working mom of two struggled with this sudden change in her situation. Depression and anxiety set in even as family and friends surrounded and supported her.

She wasn’t able to start chemo until five months later. For six grueling months she and her husband Chris made the hour and half drive to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, VA, where Kim checked herself into the hospital every month for a week to do battle with her cancer – using the chemo drug they call the “Red Devil” because it is so toxic. Adriamycin and Ifosfamide are the two chemos used in treating synovial sarcoma. This cancer is very rare and unfortunately affects children. The normal treatment for this cancer is amputation because it is very aggressive and attacks bones, muscle, tendons and joints.

After completing her treatments and because of her depressed immune system, Kim could not spend time with the pets who would normally comfort her – Mugsy the Beagle, and Cheyenne the cat. At the same time, her son had to leave and report for duty for his Navy training.

Kim credits her teenaged daughter, her husband, best friend, mom and her father for keeping her going. It was almost a full year after her amputation before she was physically strong enough to start physical therapy with a preparatory prosthesis. Even then, she had a lot of pain and required a revision to her residual limb. This meant additional healing time and it was making her nuts! She was increasingly frustrated by her limited mobility. She wanted to do something as simple as clean her house her own way.

Once she was healed and headed back to PT, she “never looked back”. As she became stronger and more mobile, it was time for the next fight on her hands – with the insurance company. Kim had done her homework and she wasn’t going to settle for something less than she needed to regain her mobility and active lifestyle. She was determined she wasn’t going to let the insurance company tell her what she could do and what she needed. After numerous appeals and fighting them as aggressively as she had fought her cancer, she got the high activity foot she needed. She finally got her definitive prosthesis and is back at the gym three days a week and is working toward getting her driver’s license back. Through a Maryland Division of Rehabilitation Services program, she is getting retraining so that she can get back into the workplace. She speaks highly of the program and looks forward to new job opportunities.

During her long recovery, everyone told her to keep looking for the light at the end of the tunnel. For a long time, she couldn’t see it. There were a lot of rough days, crying, anxiety and pain – but she fought on for her family and she DID come to see the light and now, she says she is “OK. I am here! Never give up!” She is cancer free now, but there will still be some anxiety when she goes for regular checkups. She speaks highly of her children and their own accomplishments while supporting her through her difficult time. Her son graduated from his Navy training and is now married with a child. Kim lovingly tells the story of her daughter confronting the doctors more than once, despite her youth, to make sure her mom was getting what she needed. She is in college now and wants to be a doctor herself.

Kim regrets the lack of an amputee support group in the western Maryland area, since she feels like this would have helped her better prepare and adjust to her amputation. She says it was heart wrenching not to have other amputees to talk to. Travelling to the nearest support group in Baltimore wasn’t really an option. Kim has resolved to work on remedying this situation as soon as she has transportation by starting a support group in the area. There, amputees could share their recovery experiences, support each other when tackling insurance issues, and share tips and tricks – like the compression sleeve!

What, you say? She is determined to have some fun with this prosthesis. She told Mark Treasure,  her prosthetist, that she didn’t want to wear tennis shoes for the rest of her life, and she wants to wear skirts and shorts – but with style! She got the idea to get really fun compression sleeves and pull them over the socket to create a different look any time she wants to. It is an inexpensive way to dress her socket up or down, depending upon her clothing or her mood. Rumor has it that she was going to vacation on the beach and intended to wear a sleeve that had great white sharks on them just to see the reaction she might get! It is with sense of humor and determination that she moves forward and sees a light at the end of a tunnel.