logo



After losing leg, area man looking to provide support, resources for other amputees

Jonathan Roberts • Jan 5, 2020 at 9:00 AM

It was early July 2016. Tom Carlson got dressed to begin his shift at a local retail store, as he’d done countless times before over the years he worked there.

A regular, ordinary start to a regular, ordinary day.

Before his shift was over, however, Carlson was on his way to his doctor’s office, and before long, it was clear his life would never be the same.

“I had a major infection in my foot; didn’t know anything about it, had no side-effects of it or anything,” Carlson said. “One day (at work), somebody said my foot looks kind of weird, but there was no difference in how I was walking or anything.”

Carlson pushed to finish his shift, promising to go to his doctor in the coming days, but the choice ultimately wasn’t his, and his employer forced him to head to his doctor’s office that day — a decision that possibly saved his life.

When they removed his shoe, Carlson’s foot was “beet red” and had already developed a hole from where the infection ate through his flesh and bone. Carlson was quickly admitted to the hospital, where doctors tried to figure out what the infection was, suspecting it was Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus, or MRSA, though a definitive answer would never be found.

“They thought about doing reconstructive surgery, but they had no guarantee that they could save (my foot) because the infection was so bad,” Carlson said.

After discussing his options with his doctors, Carlson decided amputation was the best course of action, saying at the time he felt that “we need to move on with our lives and move on as quickly as possible,” not wanting to delay the inevitable.

After his surgery on July 8, Carlson would spend the next five-plus weeks in the hospital recovering from a below-the-knee amputation of his right leg. And as he worked to recover from his injury, Carlson began to realize there weren’t many resources available to help new amputees adjust to life in the Tri-Cities.

“No one had any idea (where to find support),” Carlson said.

It was that realization that made him decide to dedicate himself to helping other amputees in the region — a dedication that began in earnest last summer.

Almost three years to the day, Carlson attended the Amputee Coalition National Conference in San Antonio, Texas, on a scholarship in July 2019, becoming a Certified Peer Visitor in the process and returning home to found the Amputee Support Group of the Tri-Cities, a group he hopes will provide amputees with the resources he needed but couldn’t find during his recovery.

“That was where things started (clicking) in my head because I wanted to give back to the amputee world,” Carlson said. “I knew what was going on in the Tri-Cities area, there was nothing there.”

Since then, he’s been determined to spread the word about the group. In his job at Ballad Health, he’s inspired his coworkers to wear orange armbands in April for Limb Loss Awareness Month — something he hopes spreads to more departments at Ballad this year — and has been working with the Johnson City Cardinals, where he works as a ticket-checker, to have an Amputee Day at TVA Credit Union Ballpark.

“We need to get the word out,” Carlson said. “There is a lot of people out there and a lot of people struggling.”

About 185,000 people lose limbs every year in the United States, according to the Amputee Coalition, and though Carlson has only spoken with about a half-dozen amputees in the Tri-Cities, he’s determined to make an impact and help everyone he does come in contact with. 

“When I was in the hospital, I had no help, resources or support,” Carlson said. “I don’t want anyone in the area to have to go through the same things I had to go through.

“I felt I was lost and had to figure things out on my own.” 

Carlson can be reached by those interested in learning more or needing help by phone at 423-741-2644 and by email at hockeytiny@hotmail.com. This year’s Amputee Coalition Amputee Conference will be held in Washington, D.C., from Aug. 19 to Aug. 22. For more information on the Amputee Coalition or the Tri-Cities support group, visit www.amputee-coalition.org and www.facebook.com/groups/519304868816282/.

Johnson City Press Videos