Paying it forward and showing people what’s possible
Eighteen years ago, Rich Ellis was moving a Genie single man lift when it flipped over and the 1,000-pound machine crushed his left leg. After a year of doctor’s appointments and several surgeries trying to save his leg, Ellis had a choice to make – keep his leg and run the risk of reinfection or amputate it.
Before making that choice, Ellis met with an amputee who shared his experiences and showed Ellis that he could still do just about anything. The conversation made a significant impression on Ellis.
Shortly after that visit, Ellis decided to have his leg amputated and hasn’t looked back. In fact, he looks forward and vows to pay it forward too.
“When I saw him, I knew life wasn’t over and that I could do it,” Ellis said. “I made a decision at that time, that I was going to pay that forward.”
Ellis, now an HVAC mechanic at UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central, started working at UCHealth 3 years ago. He sees new amputees on the inpatient rehab unit, where he has the perfect opportunity to keep his word and pay it forward.
Ellis visits with patients at UCHealth who are recent amputees. He offers wisdom for patients who are scared or those who just want to talk to someone who’s lost a limb.
He allows the patient to guide their conversation, and he often shares his experiences, expectations and how to navigate the process of getting fit for a prosthetic. Patients are grateful for Ellis’ authentic conversations, sharing a glimpse into his life experiences as an amputee.
During patient visits, Ellis often removes his prosthetic leg, freshly inked with the Denver Broncos logo tattoo, to show them what his prosthesis looks like. He explains how it works and gives patients a basic understanding of his experience with the prosthesis process, empowering them in their individualized healing journey.
Some of Ellis’ interactions with patients are more spontaneous. Recently, Ellis was in a patient’s room working on a ladder. He overheard the patient, who was upset about losing his leg.
“I don’t mean to interrupt,’’ Ellis said, “but can I show you a little secret?”
He stepped down off the ladder and pulled up his pant leg to reveal his prosthetic leg. The patient’s face lit up. In amazement, the patient said, “but you were on that ladder!”
“I do that every day, all day,” Ellis replied.
Ellis had paid it forward, just as another man had done for him 18 years earlier.
“All I want is for these patients to see is that it’s not the end of the world,” Ellis said. “If you have some questions as a patient or have questions for someone who has already been through it, ask me and I’ll let you know.”