Walking with vigor, love and determination
Trauma patient Mark Taylor continues to improve following lifesaving care at UF Health Jacksonville.
By Jesef Williams
Mark Taylor times his steps precisely. Lead with the left leg, follow with the right. It’s part of a process — one marked by fear and uncertainty and fueled by willpower and mechanics.
Amputation. Prosthesis. Those words sound scary, and probably quite foreign to many people. But for Mark, it’s reality.
He can’t just jump out of bed and immediately walk around. No, there’s a regimen. Mark has to place a protective sleeve over what remains of his right leg, which was amputated just above the knee. Then he puts on a custom-made prosthetic leg that’s been programmed to operate in concert with his upper body and other leg.
Mark can now stand tall and walk, stretching out his 6-foot-5 frame skyward. This ability, through the care of UF Health Jacksonville physicians, nurses and other staff, is the result of many months of healing, rehabilitation, practice and patience.
On July 28, 2014, Mark was driving alone to a nearby hardware store near his hometown of Macclenny, about 30 miles west of Jacksonville. Mark put on his left turn signal to change lanes. Suddenly, the truck’s airbag deployed. He lost control, drove off the road and violently struck a tree. His world went black.
Mark’s middle daughter, Masey, arrived soon after the crash. Even today, it’s tough for her to talk about the accident. Broken glass, blood stains and bent metal. Her voice cracks at the memory.
“You could see the truck caved into the tree. All they would tell me was, ‘His legs are broken. His legs are broken,’” Masey, 18, said. “It looked really bad.”
Mark was flown to UF Health Jacksonville, which has the personnel and resources to handle the most severe trauma cases. He was losing blood and had fractures in his legs, ankles, ribs and back.
“Mark came to us in a critically injured state,” said trauma surgeon David Skarupa, M.D. “He had some serious injuries that were in many ways life-threatening and especially limb-threatening.”
Mark was given breathing tubes and medication to combat the intense pain, and almost immediately underwent a procedure to clean the fractured bones of dead tissue and debris. All the while, uncertainty weighed on Mark’s family.
“At that point, we took it hour by hour,” said his wife, Melissa. “We didn’t know where things were going to go from one minute to the next.”
Mark was in bad shape. He remained hospitalized for more than four months. During that time, he underwent a fusion to correct his spine and multiple surgeries to stabilize and realign his legs and ankles.
Many of Mark’s broken bones were straightened. But the impact from the accident left his right leg virtually unrepairable from the knee area on down. Mark had no blood flow there and lacked mobility.
He was also experiencing infection issues with that ankle.
“From the first time I saw him, an amputation was a very serious consideration,” said orthopaedic surgeon B. Hudson “Hud” Berrey, M.D.
In cases like Mark’s, Berrey says the initial goal is always to save life and limbs. But when a prognosis turns dismal and discussion of an amputation occurs, perspective is key.
Berrey said Mark’s right leg had essentially become an anchor. If Mark opted for reconstruction, it would be a years-long recovery process that would yield unsure results.
“I think what holds most people back is fear, fear of the unknown,” Berrey said. “We have amputees who go out and do miraculous things.”
Mark’s pain was so intense he decided to take Berrey’s recommendation. Berrey performed the procedure less than five months after the accident. Berrey took cartilage from Mark’s kneecap and placed it on the end of the femur, where the amputation occurred. Berrey then took muscle from the back of the calf and folded it over the top of the cartilage and femur.
All of that helps keep the thigh muscles intact and allows the bone to heal well. Mark was then placed in a temporary prosthesis with a foot, allowing him to start rehabilitating and learning how to walk the next day.
Though the amputation was successful, Mark suffered immensely. Reality hit him when he left the hospital and came home. His leg was gone. He questioned his ability to ever work again in law enforcement or simply perform routine tasks around the house. He wondered how his daughters would view him and worried if his wife still wanted to be with him.
“After the amputation, it was rough. Worse than I thought it would be — mentally, physically, emotionally,” Mark said. “That was probably my lowest point.”
But Mark’s mood has drastically improved and the family has resumed many of their traditions, such as singing together. And in late 2014, Mark actualized a major goal – waking Masey across the football field during her high school’s senior night.
“He strutted across that field like nothing had ever happened,” Morrissa, 21, said. “And I believe he’ll continue to improve and be the best dad that he can be.”
While transitional care unit staff concentrated on Mark’s physical recovery, a UF Health trauma psychology team, led by David Chesire, Ph.D., worked with him on his mental health. Chesire first met Mark during his initial hospital admission in July 2014.
“Life may change, but you’re going to be the exact same person you were before,” Chesire said. “Your interests, desires, passions — all of that will be the same.”
Just as Mark walked across that football field with Masey, he’s thrilled about the idea of ushering Morrissa down the church aisle. She’s engaged to be married later this year.
And there’s a lot more Mark wants to do. Dance? Run? Sure, all of that is well within reason. He knows he just has to keep pushing and keep walking. One step at a time.