Some Americans may not remember the war in Kosovo, a contested territory in the Balkans in Europe. James Cook remembers, because in 1999, he was there – and it changed his life forever.
James was a Marine, a part of an infantry unit deployed to support the broader American-led peacekeeping effort that sought to maintain a fragile peace after a peace plan was signed in summer of that year.
During his first week in the country, he was taking point on a foot patrol through the rugged Kosovo wilderness. A friend of his warned James to be careful as they walked through thick brush and trees. “I turned around and said ‘I got it’,” James said – before walking off a cliff and falling 15 feet straight down.
James landed hard and injured both of his ankles. He wrapped them up and they continued on, but that injury would prove to be a life-changing one. Over the next six years of service as a Marine, James would encounter more injuries to the same area – a twisted ankle here, a sprained ankle there.
At one point, James transferred to Parris Island, the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot in South Carolina, to be a primary marksman instructor. The long hours – he spent 15 to 18 hours a day on his feet – took a toll on his already-injured ankles. “My ankles just broke down over time,” he said.
One day, James woke up, took a step, and fell – he couldn’t put any weight on his left ankle. He had surgery in 2004 on that ankle that led to an honorable discharge. As a result of the surgery, he started putting most of his weight on his right ankle when he walked – which caused further deterioration on his right leg. The pain just got worse and worse, leading to a fusion surgery in November, 2015.
It didn’t help. In August 2016, on James’s birthday, he had his right leg amputated. There was nothing else that could be done.
The road to recovery wasn’t an easy one. James endured several infections, which led to multiple surgeries. He wasn’t able to get his first prosthesis until February 2017, courtesy of BioTech. Fortunately, he was able to adapt quickly.
“I think I just picked it up right away,” he said. “But the first three days, I didn’t want to use it. I thought, ‘This is crap.’ But it’s a new lifestyle. It’s been a process, but I’ve adapted pretty well to it.”
He added, “A lot of people ask me if I’m doing alright, and honestly, I’m doing fine. The leg is a part of my life now.”
James is still healing and his residual limb is still settling in. But once it does, and once he receives his final prosthetic device, he’ll be back to doing everything he could do before – except running (“But I was never good at running,” James said with a laugh).
One challenge James has had to overcome is riding a motorcycle. He loves his 2017 Harley Lowrider, but it was difficult to adjust to riding it with a prosthesis.
“You have to be a little more mindful of when you’re coming to a stop, of how you’re going to put your leg down. You just have to be a little more careful. You can accidentally hit your rear brake and not know. I’ve done that a few times.”
As far as his relationship with BioTech is concerned, James couldn’t be happier. “I’ve worked with BioTech the whole time and they’ve been really great accommodating me. I have a great relationship with them and they know me.”
He added, “This is my life now and BioTech is my family. They’re my leg mechanics.”
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