29 Dec
  • By Aizhana Danabekova

Mona Patel and her amputee support services

We would like to introduce you Mona Patel who helps people with an amputation rebuild. When Mona was 17, a drunk driver hit her that her foot had to be amputated. So, it was the start of seven years’ worth of surgeries as doctors tried to salvage the rest of her leg. Despite her physical disability, Mona continued to get a bachelor’s and a master’s degrees and became a social worker. Before deciding to undergo a second amputation, Mona looked for amputee support services in her hometown. But she didn’t find any. In 1997, therefore, she found a nonprofit organization, San Antonio Amputee Foundation.

Today, the foundation is thriving, and so are the 1,100 amputees who have benefited from it. Mona and her team offer peer support, education, advocacy, as well as recreation opportunities. Being a social worker, Patel is comfortable and knowledgeable about providing help with issues such as transportation, insurance, and financial resources. She is also able to obtain prosthetic help for needy amputees, necessary home modifications such as door-widening, wheelchair ramps and grab bars in bathrooms.

“When somebody becomes an amputee, maneuvering through the system is sometimes just scary. I think the big catalyst for me doing what I do to help the amputee community is because I lived it.

You can read the full interview with Mona Patel in our latest blog. Link in the bio.

Can you tell us about yourself, your family and background?

My parents are immigrants from India, and in 1968, they came to the U.S. I and my brother were born in New Jersey, and then my parents moved to Los Angeles. So, I grew up and went to school in Los Angeles. I was raised knowing that I was going to have an arranged marriage. My parents taught me to be a good wife and a daughter in law. I was rejected to go to university away from home. And I never rebelled against it because I knew that it was my culture.

When I was 15, I overheard my mom under the telephone with somebody who was asking about my readiness for marriage. Of course, I was really concerned at that age because I had a cousin who was married off when she was in high school. As my whole dream was to start my college education before my marriage, I thought if I was at least in college, maybe my future husband would allow me to continue my education.

I, therefore, went to my high school counselor next day and I told him that I needed to get out from the school quickly as my parents were already thinking about my marriage. So, I graduated high school in three years instead of four and started my college education. And I was just in the second term of my college when I was hit by a drunken driver. After that accident everything changed in my life.

I was very sick. Even not my leg was injured, and my whole body was collapsed. And my parents were very upset about what was medically happening to me. When my life was stable, they came to me and said that now they extra worried to find a good family for me because I was disabled. That’s why they gave me the freedom to find my own husband. So, I got married and have two daughters but now I divorced from him.   

Let’s walk through your treatment, after having been through more than 20 surgeries to save your leg. Can you describe what that was like?

It was the start of seven years’ worth of 20 surgeries in attempts to save my leg because I had still my leg during this seven years. It was very uncomfortable because I had bones pendants and ligaments. It was tough but I gained some strength and mobility before next surgery. When it was time for next surgery I again lost my strength and mobility. So, there was a lot of back-and-forths, back-and-forths. Honestly, it made me stronger and I didn’t regret anything. But when I got the news that I was going to have a surgery number 21, I was already married by that time, and I told myself the quality of my life had to be better if I was going to have children, and I wanted to have children. So, I didn’t know how it would be to be pregnant, take care and raise a newborn with an amputation. Therefore, I started to look for a support group in San Antonio, and there were no support services. But I found a lady who was an above-the-knee amputee and had four children after her amputation and she gave me so much comfort and confidence and said “I could do it”, “I could figure it out to care my children”. Her words were so powerful for me and she put so much hope in my heart. As soon as I talked to her, I called my surgeons to schedule my surgery, and that decision efforted me to amputate my leg.

When I was reading your story, it seemed to me that you have always remained remarkably positive. What has been your recipe for your strength?

First of all, that is my nature. Secondly, I have always been aware that I am a role model for someone with limb loss, my children or people in my community. And that means a lot to me. When they see my strength, then they can see me not giving up and that helps them. I really think that I have to remain a very positive role model for those people that always watch me. Besides, my children are number one as I need to live for them.

I have a cousin who got into an accident 10 years ago. As a result, she broke her leg and had to be treated for a long time and walked with crutches. And at that time, she was doing her bachelor degree. And she gave up her education because she experienced extreme bullying at the university. So, I would like to ask if you have ever experienced bullying? And what advice would you give to someone who may be experiencing bullying or feel like they don’t fit in or doubt themselves because of attitudes towards a ‘disability’?

Personally, I have never dealt with any bullying. Of course, people are staring all the time because they are very curious. Also, we talk about this problem a lot with my members, especially with new amputees. We frequently talk that they have to prepare themselves that people are constantly staring because we are a little bit different. And I always try to get them have positive attitudes to people. I always say that people are good and they are looking at you because they are curious as to what happened or they are thinking how inspirational you are.

I know that apart from your main job, you are very active in sports. In 2015, you climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Can you tell about your trip in detail? And how did the idea come up to you?

My boyfriend with whom I have been engaged for 5 years now is very goal-oriented and structured. He is always telling me that if we have goals, we keep ourselves mentally and physically sharp. So, he inspired me to do a NAVY SEAL training. When I finished it and just rested, my boyfriend asked me, “what’s your next goal?”. I said, “let’s climb Kilimanjaro”. Then he asked me, “ok, let’s do but how much elevation you have done?”. As I didn’t know he suggested me to try first less elevation. So, we initially did the Inca Trail, in Machu Picchu that consisted of four days.

When we came back, Kilimanjaro was supposed to be a trip by my boyfriend and I took. But it ended up transitioning into a nonprofit foundation trip. So, I put a team of amputees (there were 9 amputees) and a medical crew together, and we took one year to train. I had to know that everybody was ready physically, mentally and financially.

Did you face any difficulties doing your trip to Kilimanjaro?

We were faced with only one difficulty. We had one amputee who developed a secure altitude signal. And we didn’t have an oxygen for him. The doctors had determined that if he fell asleep we would take a big chance him never waken up. So, our doctors and physical therapists hand carried him all the way to the route which was about an hour’s walk from the campsite. After the ambulance met him there and took him back to Arusha.

Mona, you have achieved so many greatest goals such as launching your nonprofit organization to help other amputees, climbing the highest mountain in Africa, and being honored as one of 10 CNN Heroes of 2017. I would like to know what motto you live by?

Oh, God! Well, I guess that my motto is that we are stronger than any circumstances. Also, with a change in our mindset, we can tackle any type of adversity that comes into our life. Be it a financial issue, be it divorce or be it a child that will be born or not due to some type of physical disability. So, it can be a number of things not related to physical disabilities.

But I do really believe that the power of human spirit is so strong that we can be resilient and we can handle anything that comes our way.

To find out more about the San Antonio Amputee Foundation, please click on the following link