After 10 months in a wheelchair, John Webb is learning to walk again

Published in the January 10 – 23, 2018 issue of Gilroy Life

John Webb, with prosthetist Hector Casanova, takes his first steps with his new prosthetic right leg.
Photo by Marty Cheek

Christmas came 10 days early for John Webb. He received a gift he truly is grateful for — a prosthetic leg that will, with time and practice, enable him to walk normally again.

When Webb met with his prosthetist, Hector Casanova, at the Hanger Clinic Dec. 15, the Morgan Hill-based computer consultant knew it would be a life-changing event. His nephew, Kialo Wilson, accompanied him into the room and watched as Webb learned how to attach the prosthetic leg, made of graphite, to the holster on his right leg. Webb felt a click as the leg locked in place.

“It’s hard to describe,” Webb said. “It’s so absolutely wonderful. After 10 months, not being able to walk, and now I can put this on and walk.”

Using a walker to steady himself, Webb went to the long hall outside the clinic’s office. “Try to take a shorter step with the right foot,” the prosthetist told him. “Bend your knee. Heel, toe.”

Looking deeply serious, Webb took the baby steps and got acclimated with his new leg. And then a smile formed as he realized he was walking again after a long year of trials and triumphs coming from the below-the-knee amputation.

The journey started in January 2017. Webb noticed a persistent pain in his foot. When he stood, his leg would hurt. Dealing with multiple myeloma, a cancer that forms in a type of white blood cell called a plasma cell, he thought the cancer treatment might be the cause. His hematologist noticed a couple of blisters on his foot but determined they weren’t caused by the chemotherapy.

Feb. 3, Webb woke up to get ready to see one of his clients. He felt an agony in his foot.

“The pain was so excruciating I could hardly get up,” he said.

He had an appointment that day with his endocrinologist.

“Out of curiosity, I had her look at my foot. And she said, ‘I think we need to take you to emergency.’”

Webb found himself at San Jose’s Good Samaritan Hospital having tests done. Soon after, he was taken to Regional Medical Center. Feb. 3 would be the last time he would walk for more than 10 months.

For the next couple of weeks, Webb was repeatedly tested. There was a blockage in a vein running down his right leg that prevented proper circulation. The skin of the foot up to about the calf turned a black olive color with the infection. Two toes were removed.

“The infection was beginning to spread, and they were going to have to take off my foot,” Webb said. “So, the day the doctor told me that, I said, “OK, I’m good with it,’ not really realizing what that meant.”

That evening, Webb finished watching the movie “The Martian” with a friend. “The next thing you know, the nurse comes in and says, ‘I’m here to prepare you for surgery,’” he said.

When he woke up from the surgery, he realized the reality of his missing limb.

“I couldn’t think. All I could do was cry,” he said.

As he laid in bed, he received a phone call from two close Gilroy friends, Sharon and Don Vanni.

“Somehow or another, they found out what had happened, and they started praying for me,” he said. “And it really made me feel much better.”

In the hospital, friends visited. Some of them cried when they saw the missing limb. His nephew brought in a piñata formed to resemble a smiling dog — and that brought Webb a little joy.

During his month-long stay in the hospital, Webb lost about 30 pounds because he couldn’t stomach the food. He started physical therapy. His hemoglobin level dropped, and he needed two blood transfusions to bring it back to a healthy level.

“I had some really good nurses who took good care of me and told me what exercises to do to try to make me feel good.”

Saturday, March 4, the doctor released him. When he got home, he was unsure how to get up the steps to his bedroom. Neil Forrest, his housemate, helped. Webb discovered he would not be alone in his journey.

“It started out with people coming every day. They were bringing me food and coming to visit,” he said.

He quickly figured out how to manage the stairs. “I would just get on my rear-end and go step by step until I was downstairs and I would get in the wheelchair.”

Without two legs for balance, once simple chores became a burden. Webb learned how to do his laundry by leaning on a small platform. He learned how to put his sheets on his mattress. He learned how to make his breakfast. Clients would drive him to their offices in Gilroy or Santa Clara to work on their computers — or he worked remotely from his home.

Gaining independence helped build Webb’s confidence. His life approached normal again. Friends took him to restaurants or movies and other outings.

One day in a Morgan Hill Safeway store as Webb rolled along getting groceries, a man walked toward him and gave him a thumbs up.

“Right after that moment, I realized he has a prosthetic leg on. And I’m like ‘wow,’” Webb recalled. “He comes to my wheelchair and gives me a hug and for the next 30 minutes we talked all about his prosthetic.”

Morgan Hill resident David Rummens had been wearing his prosthetic for 35 years. He showed Webb how he could run down the aisle. He even took the leg off by pushing a button.

“We had collected a crowd of people who were curious about the whole prosthetic thing,” Webb said.

By early December, Webb’s leg had healed and shaped enough for him to go to the next stage. The prosthetist made a mold to create the artificial leg. He put a sleeve on the stump area of Webb’s leg, wrapped it in cellophane and cloth and placed a roll of a substance on the leg that hardened to form the mold.

Webb came back Friday that week and Casanova put on the holster that would carry his prosthetic. He saw his patient was eager to try out the new leg, and so he placed on the limb a prosthetic with a temporary foot attachment.

“It fit like a glove,” Webb said. “I stood up and started to cry at first. I was so overjoyed because I was standing. I was holding on at first — then I turned loose. I threw my hands in the air. I was just standing there.”

Holding onto a railing, he started taking little steps. Tears of joy broke from his eyes. “It was just amazing that after 10 months, I was actually walking.”

A week later, Dec. 15, Webb returned with his nephew and took his first proper steps with the prosthetic, balancing himself on the walker. After the visit, a friend took him to Ladera Grill for a celebration of his achievement. With caution, he stepped out of the car while leaning on his walker.

“I got to the curb and I wondered what I was going to do. And I found it wasn’t hard to get up the curb,” he said. “I walked up the ramp into the restaurant. It was so uplifting.”

Webb feels confident that in less than three months, he will be walking on his prosthetic without use of a walker. The past 10 months have been a challenge, but he hopes his experience is also a lesson for people dealing with their own health hardships.

“Don’t give up. Don’t give up,” he insisted. “Don’t sit around and think just because you lost your foot life is over. Persevere.”