Finding Love After Limb Loss
Patient highlight: Kim Mlynski and Tom Carlson
When Kim Mylinski attended the 2019 Amputee Coalition National Conference in San Antonio, Texas, she wasn’t looking for love. She was focused on taking the next step toward healing and empowerment after a life-threatening infection that had taken her right leg above the knee.
But, the friendly, talkative man who was somehow always seated near her struck up a conversation.
At first, Kim thought Tom Carlson was one of those guys who was “full of BS.” She quickly learned that he had a big heart, and a friendship was kindled.
“I wasn’t looking for anybody, but our friendship grew deeper and deeper,” Kim said. “Tom is a very giving person and a beautiful soul.”
The pair stayed in touch after the conference, sharing tips for supporting other amputees in their communities. Today, they are engaged to be married.
“This doesn’t happen much in the amputee world,” Tom said. “I want to get our story out there because people struggle every day with relationships as a person with limb loss. I want people to know that love is out there, the right person is out there. Sometimes it just takes a little longer.”
The road that led Tom to Kim began in early 2016, when he first noticed a sore on his big toe. It didn’t seem like a big deal, until an infection set in. Surgery addressed the issue, but the infection came back with a vengeance.
He was admitted to the hospital, where he learned he was also suffering from Type 2 diabetes, and found that most of the bone in the bottom of his foot was gone.
“The doctors were shocked,” Tom said. “I had no symptoms, no side effects – nothing.”
His right leg below the knee was amputated, and he found himself struggling to adjust to his new normal.
“I was in therapy for two days after the surgery, then they sent me home because I could get out of the wheelchair and into bed,” Tom said. While he had the support of his co-workers and church community, he didn’t know any other amputees who had been through the challenges he was facing.
Eventually, after months of feeling alone, he discovered a vibrant support system and he found his calling.
“I made it a mission to offer help and support in our area for people with limb loss,” Tom said.
Even better, he met his soon-to-be wife.
In 2013, Kim was married with two children and working as a nurse in an intensive care unit. Then she got extremely sick. She learned she had a serious type of colitis and was taken immediately into surgery, with only a slim chance of surviving the night. She made it through, but the next year she fell and cut her ankle. In less than 24 hours, the wound was swollen and red and she had a high fever.
She was back in the hospital for surgery to remove the infection, and though she recovered, the infection returned. After multiple skin grafts, blood transfusions and wound care protocols, the infection was so serious she went into multi-system organ failure. The only way to survive was to amputate her right leg above the knee.
She spent months struggling with phantom pain, finally getting relief with a spinal cord stimulator. Things were still far from easy at home. Her marriage broke down, and one of her children was dealing with an addiction. All the while, Kim struggled to accept her amputation.
“I’m a diva, self-proclaimed, but I didn’t feel like that,” Kim said. “I wanted to hide. I didn’t want to look like an amputee.”
When she went to Hanger Clinic’s EmpowerFest, her eyes – and world – opened up again. For the first time since her amputation, she got back on a bike – something she had always loved.
“I start riding around and around,” Kim said. “And soon they’re saying, ‘Slow down, we can’t catch you!’”
The event helped her realize that it was time to be proud of who she was.
“I thought, ‘I am going back to who I am. You need to be loud and proud of who you are,” Kim said. “I realized, ‘Why would I try to hide it, wearing these clothes I’d never wear before?’”
The journey also inspired her to help others with similar struggles.
“I want to take any chance there is for me to give back to others,” Kim said. “If I can make a difference in one person’s life, I’m happy with that.”
Adding in adjustability
Tom and Kim both know what it’s like to be an amputee and so, they can offer a unique support to each other. For instance, they sometimes encourage each other to try out new products, like RevoFit®.
When Tom first tried RevoFit, he was stunned with the ease it brought to his daily life.
“It’s so much quicker, so much easier, and it has made my life so much better,” Tom said. “I can adjust on the fly at work. I’m on my feet, up and down, all day long, and now I can stop for a quick second, tighten the panels, and boom, I’m right back at it. If it’s too tight, I back it out and readjust in a quick second. I don’t know where I’d be without it.”
Kim was intrigued. Because of her autoimmune issues, her weight can fluctuate a few pounds throughout the day. Before using RevoFit, she constantly struggled with the fit of her prosthesis, sometimes wearing 15-ply socks over her limb to keep her prosthesis tight enough.
“I was watching Tom being able to control the panels, while I’m here applying another 3-ply sock and a 5-ply sock,” Kim said. “I’m like, ‘I need to be in that system.’”
Now, her prosthesis fits better than ever before.
“RevoFit is revolutionary for someone like me – it has been life changing,” Kim said. “The minute my prosthetist put me in my socket built with RevoFit, it was an ‘Ah-ha’ moment. I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m able to control this myself, instead of having to put on sock after sock after sock.’ It’s done wonders for me.”
A journey of love
Tom loves sharing their story. After waiting for years to meet “the one,” he wants other people, no matter their struggle, to know there’s hope.
Kim agrees, quick to point out finding the right person is worth the wait.
“He’s my biggest support, my No. 1 fan,” Kim said. “I try to be his.”
Photography by: Cassander Marquis-Erickson from Marquis- Erickson Photography
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