For many people, 11-11-11 is likely a memorable day in their lives. For Bill Kanouff, it’s the day his life changed forever.
Kanouff was headed to his South Tampa home on his motorcycle when a car made a sudden turn and smashed into him, pinning his right leg between the two vehicles.
It was a terrible accident.
“The responding officer called the coroner first and the ambulance second,” Kanouff said.
At the hospital, doctors learned that Kanouff had fractures in both arms, broken ribs that punctured both his lungs, a cracked sternum, broken bones in his left foot, and a right leg that was essentially shredded from the knee down.
Three days later after multiple surgeries, doctors realized they wouldn’t be able to save Kanouff’s right leg. They amputated it just above the knee.
‘You Have to Get Back Up’
Kanouff, now 54, doesn’t dwell on how he felt about losing his leg. He’s resilient and optimistic by nature.
“I’ve been that way my entire life,” he said. “Occasionally life will kick you, but you have to get back up.”
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That doesn’t mean he didn’t have moments of anger and frustration. As you can imagine, he said, losing a limb isn’t easy.
His partner, though loving and supportive, requested they go to couple’s counseling. They’ve worked through their issues and are still together.
Then, there was the process of rehabilitation and finding a prosthetic leg. For that, Kanouff found Mike Bertalan, certified prosthetist and orthotist at Westcoast Brace & Limb, which has five locations in the Tampa Bay area, including one in Temple Terrace.
Westcoast Brace & Limb
Kanouff got out of the hospital in December 2011. About a month and a half later, he went to West Coast Brace & Limb.
“I remember the first day you came in,” Jennifer Robinson, patient program director at Westcoast Brace & Limb, told Kanouff Tuesday at his most recent appointment. “You were very resilient. You were like that from day one.”
Bertalan has built all of Kanouff’s prosthetic legs, the first of which Kanouff received last February. It was a simple mechanical leg that did its job but wasn’t ideal. The leg was metal, and Kanouff said he fell several times while using it.
Almost six months later, his insurance company authorized him to get an Ottobock C-Leg, a prosthetic with a computerized knee. Everyone has a certain gait—the way he or she walks. The C-Leg knows where Kanouff is in his gait cycle and adjusts its passive resistance to mesh with Kanouff accordingly, Bertalan explained.
Kanouff’s newest prosthetic is a running leg, which he received about a week ago. The socket that fits on Kanouff’s residual limb and the metal piece that makes up the leg were donated by Westcoast Brace & Limb. The foot, which is a C-shaped carbon fiber foot, was donated by Freedom Innovations, a company that designs and creates prosthetic devices.
Kanouff, an active runner before the accident, said he was overwhelmed with gratitude when he learned he would be receiving the donated running leg.
“I actually cried when I found out,” he said, explaining it takes a lot for him to tear up. “For me, that was a major thing.”
He’ll use the running leg when he participates in his first race since his accident: the I WILL Inspire 5K/1-Mile Fun Run on Feb. 16 at Telecom Park.
I WILL Inspire 5K/1-Mile Fun Run
Even before the accident, Kanouff was passionate about community activism, volunteerism and charitable giving. He participated in red and pink ribbon charity runs, as well as the Santa Speedo Run.
“I’ve always been community active,” Kanouff said.
So, when he heard about the I WILL Inspire 5K/1-Mile Fun Run through Westcoast’s Amputees Together Support Group, he signed up.
Wescoast Brace & Limb participated in the inaugural I WILL Inspire 5K/1-Mile Fun Run last year.
“We knew we wanted to be part of it in a bigger way this year,” Robinson said.
Westcoast is one of the event’s sponsors. Others include: Florida Orthopaedic Institute; Boston Bill Sunglasses; LEDtampa; Texas Roadhouse; and KONA Multisport.
The GFWC New Tampa Junior Woman’s Club hosts the event, which benefits the I WILL Foundation and Operation Helping Hand of Tampa. The two charities focus on helping people recover from life-altering injuries and challenges.
Race Co-Director Mandy Manno, of New Tampa, said the event is a tribute to one of her neighbors, wounded Marine Lt. Col. Ty Edwards. Edwards gets around in a wheelchair but is a former runner and triathlete. The two met in 2010 and bonded over their interest in running.
“Our mission is to inspire athletes of all abilities to embark on a journey of self achievement, whether it is a first time runner or recovering veteran,” Manno said.
Last year, the event drew 500 participants, and Manno said organizers are expecting at least that many this year. She said 10 to 15 percent of participants have visible injuries.
“We want people to feel like they either helped inspire others or were inspired by the many, many participants who so bravely shared their stories with us,” she said.
Robinson said between 20 and 25 Westcoast patients and their families and friends will be participating this year.
Dr. H. Claude Sagi, a Florida Orthopaedic Institute trauma surgeon, will race alongside Kanouff, whom he treated in 2011.
“Patients like Bill inspire our team each and every day. His journey is an incredible one,” Sagi said, “and I look forward to crossing the finish line with him on race day.”
The I WILL Inspire 5K/1-Mile Fun Run takes place Feb. 16 at 8 a.m. at Telecom Park in Temple Terrace. The Florida Orthopadic Institue’s North Tampa office, 13020 Telecom Parkway North, will serve as race headquarters, and the course winds through Telecom Park. For more information or to register, visit the I WILL Inspire website.
Gearing Up For the Race
These days, Kanouff wears shorts whenever he can. He said he’s proud to show off his C-Leg.
“I’m not only proud of it, I use it as an educational opportunity,” he said.
He talks with people, especially kids, he meets in restaurants or grocery stores about the leg, why he has it and how it works.
On Tuesday, though, he was at Westcoast Brace & Limb to talk with Bertalan about his running leg, which he’s been using to run a couple blocks up and down the side street next to his house in order to train for the I WILL Inspire event Saturday.
“I’ve been running 5 to 15 minutes twice a day just to make sure I’m getting conditioned,” he said.
He took the C-Leg off and replaced it with the running leg to show Bertalan how it’s working so far. They went outside so that Kanouff could run in the parking lot a couple times.
“I think that was really impressive,” Bertalan said after watching him.
Kanouff said he’s looking forward to the race Saturday.
“We can do this,” he said of himself and the other Westcoast patients participating. “We’re capable of doing it in our own different ways.”
His advice to other amputees: “Don’t dwell on the difficulties; celebrate the accomplishments.”
I Will INSPIRE 5K
The GFWC New Tampa Junior Women’s Club's "I WILL Inspire" 5K: Feb 16th 2013
Organizers Hope 5K Race Will 'Inspire' People of All Abilities (2012)