Dover's Diane Kiefer lost her right foot five years ago. Now she wants to help others facing the same trauma.

Diane Kiefer likes to look forward, not back.

When she lost her right foot five years ago, she had no one to turn to for help. She didn’t know what to expect, she didn’t know how she would adjust to life without a limb.

In short, Kiefer had no one to talk to or to learn from.

Not wanting to see others go through that uncertainty, Kiefer is aiming to become Delaware’s second Certified Peer Visitor: a specially trained volunteer who offers support and information for people about to undergo an amputation or who have recently lost a limb.

Kiefer, 62, sees it as a next step in her life.

“I have a lot of Christian faith,” she said. “When my foot was amputated, I realized I had two choices: I could sit in a wheelchair in the dark feeling sorry for myself, or I could get up and keep on living.

“I took the second choice.”

Kiefer will attend the eight-hour CPV course during the Amputee Coalition of America’s national conference Aug. 3-5 in Louisville, Ky. The training will allow her to seek out recent amputees and offer counseling to help them through different phases of coping with their new lives.

Certified peer visitors are required to take refresher training every two years.

There are more than 300 support groups registered with the Amputee Coalition nationwide and the group has trained more than 1,000 CPVs to help amputees and family members, Kiefer said.

But there is only one certified CPV to cover Kent and Sussex counties.

“With the explosion of diabetes-related diseases, we have had many more amputations,” said Wendy Holmberg, the state’s only other certified peer visitor. In addition to counseling amputees and their families, Kiefer will be able to make sure tools, aids and workshops are available for them.

“She can work with the hospital and assist when it’s time to go home, ensuring the patient has the correct equipment to make an easy transition,” Holmberg said.

Kiefer’s help will be offered without cost, and the amputee will be free to accept her help or to reject it, Holmberg added.

Two million amputees

The Amputee Coalition could not provide statistics by state, but advises almost two million Americans are living with the loss of a limb, and about 185,000 people lose a limb to amputation each year.

About 45 percent lose an arm or leg to trauma -- an accident or similar cause -- and about 54 percent had amputations because of diabetes. Most are below-the-knee amputations caused by peripheral arterial disease, which causes blood vessels to contract, cutting off circulation.

Diabetics often lose feeling in their feet and sometimes don’t know something is wrong until it’s too late.

Kiefer went through exactly that situation in December 2011.

A longtime diabetic, she stepped on a carpet staple while cleaning for the Christmas holiday. Because she’d lost feeling in her feet, Kiefer was unaware of the problem until the wound became infected, turning black and blue and sending her to the hospital.

“I was on life support,” she said. “The surgeon said it was either my leg or my life.”

When she woke up after the life-saving surgery, Kiefer was at a loss. Other than her family, she had no support group.

But her faith carried her through, she said.

“I just decided I wasn’t going to give up,” Kiefer said. Once she recovered and was able to go home, she started a support group for other amputees.

“I was looking at what I could do next for someone else and for myself,” she said. “I think that’s why God let me live.”

‘My hand is always out to help’

Kiefer was surprised, however, when that support group, Mending Pieces, failed to attract much interest. In fact, Holmberg was about the only person who did show up, and through her Kiefer learned about the CPV program.

“We found that amputees in general don’t want to admit they’re amputees,” she said. “We just could not get people to come out. But Wendy did, and she’s been a wonderful role model and cheerleader.”

Holmberg, who still works full time, lost her right leg and gets around in a wheelchair. She’s looking forward to having Kiefer shoulder some of her CPV duties.
A retired teacher who formerly worked in the Capital School District, Kiefer looks forward to using those skills to help others face the future.

“I feel there is a reason why I didn’t bite the dust. Part of it is my Christian faith, part of it is my knowledge and my ability to communicate.

“I feel people who have something to share should share it, and my hand is always out to help.

“We offer to talk to them,” Holmberg said. “We don’t go in and tell them we’re going to talk with them. We ask.”

“Often it’s the family who has the questions, such as how will they get into the house, how can they learn to shower, how can they pull a zipper up. There are all sorts of questions that go through people’s minds.”

Holmberg, a native of Australia, lost her leg when she was 21. She had three children to care for, and she’d never even met an amputee.

“I didn’t have any rehab, so I just rolled with the flow, I worked out how to do things,” she said. “I developed my own set of skills, but decided there never would be an amputee in my area who didn’t have something they could go to.”

Holmberg has set up an online funding page at youcaring.com/kentuckybound to raise the $1,700 Kiefer will need to attend the Amputee Coalition conference. As of July 11, they’ve raised a little less than $300.

Kiefer is confident she’ll be able to attend the conference and earn her CPV certification.

“I want to be there when someone opens their eyes after an amputation and they start feeling their life is over,” she said. “I want to be there to tell them it’s not over.”

“I feel if I can make a difference in someone’s life, and be able to help them, then I’ll have been successful,” she said.