By Scott Halasz
XENIA — All Dennis Oehler and Todd Schaffhauser wanted to do was promote the Paralympic games.
“We had this great idea to help get people involved,” said Schaffhauser, a 3-time olympian and world record holder.
But then something strange happened. Tons of 60-somethings — many who became amputees due to diabetes — showed up hoping to learn how to be more active.
“They trying to recover just to back to living again,” Schaffhauser.
And hence, the Amputee Walking School was born and was launched at Hospitality Center for Rehabilitation and Healing Oct. 26 as part of CareRite Centers partnership with the pair.
Oehler, 56, lost his left leg below the knee in an automobile accident when he was 24. Schaffhauser, 47, lost his left leg above the knee to cancer at age 15. Both were determined to continue their active lifestyles and qualified for Paralympic games in 1988, 1992 and 1996. In 1988, Oehler set a world record for the 100-meter run in 11.73 seconds and also won gold in the 200 and 400 runs. Also in 1988, Schaffhauser won gold in another 100 with a time of 15.77 (there are several classes for each event to keep the competition fair) and in the 1995 World Games in Germany broke his own world record, running the 100 in 14.55.
The two began the walking schools 29 years ago and are now in 25 cities in 12 states changing lives with a multi-faceted regimen including physical and psychological mentoring. They have had 20,000 amputees through their program since its inception. As a side note, by the time the 1996 Paralympic Games were staged in Atlanta, Schaffhauser had taught all but one sprinter how to run.
“It’s more than just the Amputee Walking School,” Oehler said. “It’s a comprehensive rehab program. When the folks come into the building, they’re going to get the best care possible.
The approach starts early in the recovery, many times before the amputee even begins to think about walking again.
“They’re such slow healers,” Oehler said. “Sometimes they may not get their leg until after they leave us at the skill level.”
So Oehler and Schaffhauser begin by doing pre-prosthetic training, including strengthening the hip and keeping the patient motivated to work toward a happy ending.
“Really it’s a slow go,” Schaffhauser said. “There are things you just have to work through.”
They said the mental state is as important before the amputation as it is after. Patients have to understand life will be better. They are encouraged to visit one of the walking schools to see what life will be like six months down the road, Schaffhauser said.
Oehler cited a 101-year-old amputee who lost one leg above the knee and the other below the knee.
“She had the will to want to live for her great-grandkids,” he said. The lady lived to be 106.
“The outcomes we’re having and seeing is really exciting to us,” Oehler said.
Those are the same stories CareRite officials are hoping to share in the future, especially in this area where there is nothing like it in existence.
“We can say that we’re the only facility in the Miami Valley area that can offer this comprehensive program,” said Hospitality Executive Director John Flanagan said. “This augments our rehab program.”