William's story

William sitting up on his hospital bed waving and wearing a mask.

William Shafer, a 55-year-old right-leg amputee, had adjusted to life with one leg. He never expected to have to relearn everything as a double amputee three years later.

On a fall day, he began experiencing "uncontrolled bodily functions" and was taken to the emergency room at Hackensack University Medical Center. Extensive testing, including an MRI, CT scan, and X-rays, revealed squamous cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer, had spread throughout his entire left leg. The life-threatening situation left the father of six with no choice but to undergo an amputation of his left leg below the hip.

"It was very scary at times, and I was not sure if I was going to live or die," he recollected.

After three weeks in the hospital, he and his doctors agreed that a comprehensive rehabilitation program was the next step in his recovery. That’s when he chose the amputee specialists at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation – Saddle Brook due to its “stellar reputation.”

Upon admission to Kessler, his physician-led team of nurses, physical and occupational therapists, and other clinical staff developed a personalized treatment plan to help him reach his goals: “to learn life in a wheelchair and gain as much independence as possible.”

Importantly, William also had the support of his family at the start. They wanted to be part of his recovery and signed up for Kessler’s family training sessions to help ease his transition to life ahead.

Then William went to work. His doctors and rehabilitation nurses provided the care and training to manage his residual limb while his physical and occupational therapists focused on building his core strength and balance. This was a tough challenge for William as his abdominal muscles had been surgically removed two years ago.

However, with determination, he reached a big milestone when he was “able to strengthen all the other muscles in my core without the abdominal muscles and I was able to turn over by myself.”

Similarly, in occupational therapy, he focused on learning to perform daily tasks safely and efficiently, including bathing, dressing and grooming from a wheelchair. He particularly enjoyed the therapy sessions with one of Kessler’s specially trained Canine Companions, helping to reinforce his skills and restore his spirit.

He credits his care team and their variety of hands-on therapies for his progress. “There is not one particular therapy, but a combination of all of them and the knowledgeable staff that guided me throughout my stay.”

After just one month at Kessler, he was proud of the “outstanding” progress he had made. Throughout his rehabilitation journey, William learned something about himself: “I am stronger than I gave myself credit.”

Upon discharge, he was looking forward to returning home and adjusting to life in a wheelchair – with his family at his side. He planned to continue to improve his strength and balance through in-home therapy.

Reflecting on his overall recovery experience, William shared these thoughts: “Your facility was outstanding and made me feel like I was the only patient in the building,” he said. “The staff from top to bottom were great, especially the therapists and doctor assigned to me.”