Bernie Smith, III, 71, is a husband, father of seven, grandfather of 16 and a retired Army veteran. In 1970, Bernie was fighting in the Vietnam War where he received three bullet wounds. He took one shot to the knee and another two in his leg, resulting in a shattered femur. Bernie spent three months in Osaka, Japan, seven months at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio and two months in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania recovering from his wounds. After one year, he was discharged from the hospital and the Army and attended Northern Kentucky University, majoring in business and marketing.
In 2000, he started experiencing knee pain that derived from his past injuries. It was just the beginning of his journey to amputation. For 20 years, he was in and out of hospitals undergoing multiple surgeries to try and fix his knee. In total, he’s had five knee replacements as well as other surgeries to try and combat infections and other issues. In 2020, he also found out he had heart disease and that it needed to get under control before any additional surgeries to save his knee.
Unfortunately, the infection in his knee took a turn for the worse and doctors recommended an above knee amputation. In April, Bernie underwent amputation surgery at Bethesda North Hospital in Ohio. Although agreeing to amputation was a hard decision, Bernie knew it was the right one. He said, “Over the last 20 years, I’ve always known that I might lose my leg, so I have had time to prepare myself for that day.” A week after his amputation surgery, Bernie also had heart surgery at Bethesda North. Ironically, the surgery occurred 45 years to the day that his dad died of heart disease.
After recovering from both surgeries, Bernie started on a rehabilitation journey at TriHealth Rehabilitation Hospital, which was recommended by his golf partner and the clinicians at Bethesda North. Upon admission, Bernie needed help rebuilding his core strength. He also needed to relearn how to do certain daily activities, such as showering and getting in and out of bed.
Bernie’s biggest goals included going home to spend time with his family and returning to all his recreational activities. Prior to his surgeries, he babysat his two-year-old granddaughter two days a week, and he was very excited to get back to it. He was also in a pool league and coached recreational baseball and softball teams, which he was anxious to return to as well.
In physical therapy, Bernie participated in endurance conditioning as well as balance and gait training. He also worked with therapists to utilize adaptive equipment that helped him become more independent, and his team used ice to help control pain. Bernie worked hard to strengthen his core by doing leg lifts and standing on a foam block in order to get ready for his prosthesis. Hip strengthening exercises and standing in the parallel bars while reaching in different directions helped build stability and endurance. He also practiced using the wheelchair to get over rugs and thresholds.
Occupational therapists focused on increasing strength in Bernie’s upper extremities. However, they had to be cautious since he had weight lifting restrictions due to his heart surgery. Bernie also focused on increasing his dependence in daily living activities. His therapists helped him practice showering, getting in and out of bed and working in a kitchen setting. Additionally, they provided family training and recommended medical equipment that Bernie would need when he returned home.
As he neared discharge, Bernie shared his appreciation for his therapy team. “I’ve been so impressed with this place and the care I received here. Everyone has been so helpful and informative.” He also expressed gratitude for his family and the support, love and humor they showed him every step of his journey.
After 17 days at TriHealth Rehabilitation Hospital, Bernie was discharged. “I am glad I finally got rid of that knee so the infection is gone and I don’t have to worry about it ever again.”
When asked what he was looking forward to most, he said, “Seeing the family. They’ll all be coming out to see me. I can’t wait to be home sweet home, in my own bed and on my porch that overlooks the river.”
Bernie will be continuing with at home therapy while he waits for his new prosthetic leg.