Proper Fitting Prosthesis Helps Boxer Go The Distance

Rustin Hughes (pictured on the right) underwent two amputation surgeries in the Summer of 2014 due to a blood clot in his femoral artery that was cutting off the circulation to his lower leg. A year prior, Hughes, who was 39 at the time, began noticing a nagging pain in his upper right leg. “I thought it was a pinched nerve, but it just kept getting worse,” says Hughes, a boxer and mixed martial arts fighter.

Everything reached a climax when he and his girlfriend attended a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheatre near Denver in the summer of 2014. He struggled to walk from the parking lot to their seats, which included climbing rows of stairs. The walk back to the car following the concert proved even worse, Hughes remembers. “It felt like someone had hit the off button on my leg,” he says. “I almost couldn’t make it.”

They went to the emergency room. During an ultrasound, Hughes says the technician told him, “I know I’m not supposed to say anything, but that’s the biggest blood clot I’ve ever seen.” The doctor told him that it was a good probability that he would lose his leg and would be on blood thinners for the rest of his life. They tried several procedures to save his leg, including a heparin drip, but nothing worked.

“I finally said if I’m going to have to go through it, let’s get it over with now.” Though Hughes says he tried to prepare for the surgery by strengthening his core and doing one-legged and balancing exercises, the week leading up to the operation was tough. “Waking up every morning knowing that I had to try and prepare myself mentally and physically was pure torture,” he says.

Hughes’ first surgery was in August 2014. He remembers waking up with intense pain but told himself it was to be expected because of the procedure. The pain, however, continued to intensify. “I couldn’t hit that pain button enough times,” he says. “Taking oxycodone was like taking Tic-Tacs.”

His physicians told him his leg wasn’t healing properly and planned to do a debridement. They told him the worst-case scenario was that they would have to take the amputation above his knee. “I was very nervous,” he remembers. “But I didn’t really think they’d take my knee.”

Hughes, who lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, had his surgeries in Denver and went through rehabilitation at the local U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital. Care at the VA left him grappling with what he called “a five-gallon bucket for a leg.” The prosthesis was so useless that Hughes says he spent more time using his wheelchair.

However, Hughes did have a good relationship with his physical therapist at the VA, who referred him to Quorum Prosthetics in Windsor, Colorado in January 2015. “He saw that I was struggling. He knew Joe, the CEO of Quorum Prosthetics, and he knew what he could do for me,” Hughes says. Within a week of being fitted with a new prosthesis, Hughes was back to boxing.

The new prosthesis was a game changer. “I could drive down from Fort Collins to Denver to the VA and get crappy service, or I could go to Windsor and get gold service. It was a no-brainer.”

Hughes, like most people who have had amputations, never thought it would happen to him. “I used to look at it like it was a third-world problem,” he says. The day Hughes woke up after his second surgery alone may have been one of the worst days of his life, but it was also the day his life began to change. “I was at a crossroads,” he says. “I wasn’t really a religious person, but I had a serious talk with the man upstairs and said, ‘What do you want from me?’ I said, ‘You need to show me a path.'”

And that’s when he says he got the idea for B-Bold, a veteran-owned nonprofit he formed in 2016 to help individuals with disabilities through adaptive sports. He named the business after his late wife of nine years, who passed away in 2012 at age 36 after a long battle with brain cancer. “Brandy was bold. That was her motto, be bold,” he says. “She was strong, and that’s why she survived so many years.”

Hughes competes nationally and internationally in para Jiu Jitsu, having competed in November in the JJIF World Para Jiu Jitsu championships in Sweden. He’s also a trainer at Trials Mixed Martial Arts in Fort Collins, where he helps with boxing clinics for those who have Parkinson’s disease. “It’s taken a while to see that light at the end of the tunnel,” he says. “You gotta go through the bad to get to the good stuff, and this is my journey.”

Source: The O&P Edge