By Collin Johnson
Health and Research News Service

HATTIESBURG, Miss.—For Jamie McPherson, complete recovery from the amputation of his lower right leg meant more than walking, running and jumping again. It meant helping others through their time of need as well.

The former University of Southern Mississippi defensive end who lost his leg to an on-the-field injury, not only lives a fully active life with his artificial limb, but now works with other amputees as a Methodist Rehabilitation Center prosthetic technician. He’s now building prosthetic limbs for others.

“It’s as much therapy for me as it is for them,” he said. “I get charged up from seeing our patients get their lives back.”

McPherson was injured in his last college football game. It was Homecoming 1994 and his USM Golden Eagles were up against Samford. When the coach called for a stunt in the third quarter, it was defensive end McPherson’s opportunity to take out the quarterback. Instead, it was McPherson who got taken out.

“Just as I got there, the quarterback stepped out of the way into the pocket and the other defensive end dove head first into my knee,” McPherson recalled. “I instantly lost feeling in my foot. It bent the right knee backwards more than 90 degrees. Everything inside just kind of exploded.”

Doctors operated on McPherson’s leg more than a dozen times over the next week. Finally, he was given a choice. Spend the rest of your life walking with a cane and never run again, or amputate now and continue to live an active lifestyle on a prosthetic limb. It wasn’t much of a choice, McPherson said.

Six months later, he was running outside the MRC outpatient clinic on Lakeland Drive with MRC director of orthotics and prosthetics Rick Psonak. Psonak had designed a foot for McPherson to run, jump and play basketball on. McPherson saw his future.

Today, he is helping others with amputations deal with their loss and learn how to function with their prosthesis. He works three days a week in MRC’s orthotics and prosthetics clinic in Hattiesburg and two days at its outpatient clinic in Jackson. In between, he travels around the state to visit other satellite clinics and assists with seminars demonstrating the latest in prosthetic technology.

“It’s perfect for me,” he said. “There are never two days that are the same. There’s always variety. It’s a technical job that uses my mechanical ability and puts me in the medical field.”

It’s also perfect for his patients.

Don Aultman, 45, of Hattiesburg, lost his lower leg to a muscle disease three years ago. Seeing McPherson run and jump gives him hope. “Jamie McPherson is my hero,” said the father of three. “He encourages me to stay active. When I see him, my attitude becomes ‘If he can do it, then I can do it.’”

When Aultman visits McPherson at the Hattiesburg clinic, the two share a special bond. “He knows the questions I need answers to before I even know to ask,” Aultman said.

“It creates an atmosphere where it’s not a big deal to be an amputee,” said McPherson, who built Aultman’s prosthesis. “And it pushes me to do better. To work harder at motivating them.”

When Aultman, a retired carpenter, wanted to know if he could still be an outdoors person, if he could still hunt and fish, McPherson knew exactly how he felt.

Today, McPherson does all those things and then some. He swims, runs, lifts weights at the gym and never stops looking for challenges. He and fellow amputee Brad Kennedy worked together to build a foot for sprinting.

“It’s pretty impractical for everyday walking. You can’t do anything but sprint on it,” he said. “As soon as we finished it, we went out in the parking lot and started sprinting back and forth.”

Hearing about things like that gives his patients hope.

“Jamie is one heck of an inspiration,” Aultman said. “He knows what I’m feeling because he’s been through it. He understands.”

Methodist Rehabilitation Center’s orthotics and prosthetics division creates customized artificial limbs and braces for amputees in a state-of-the-art laboratory using the latest computer assisted design technology. The division is staffed by practitioners, registered technicians and a certified pedorthotist. It is recognized by the American Board of Certification as a center of excellence.