Tony Coulter: Staying Strong Despite Losing Legs and Sight

Tony CoulterTony and his physical therapist, Cindy Crook of Performance Physical TherapyTony Coulter, Steve Coulter, Donna Crain Drury, Larry E. Drury, & John ShouseTony Coulter before losing his second leg

Just imagine this.  You’re lying in a hospital bed with the smell of disinfectant and the color of sterile white all around you and infiltrating your senses.  Your doctor comes in the hospital room and tells you, “We have to amputate your leg today.  Without the immediate amputation, you could lose your life.”

Fantasy or a figment of the imagination might be your first response when hearing those cold statements.  Not so with Tony Coulter, a local diabetic, who has heard those devastating words twice in his young life.  Tony is a double amputee due to suffering with diabetes, a serious disease that runs rampant through bodies as it damages blood vessels in the limbs and critically does damage to body organs that are crucial for staying alive.

In 2003, Tony Coulter was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.  He says that he was not surprised when receiving the diagnosis because he suspected he had the disease due to an excessive thirst he was experiencing at the time.  Back then, the 29 year old man did not take the disease seriously even after he learned about diabetes and the damage it can do to human bodies.

He, like many other people who receive the diabetes diagnosis, let diabetic statistics go in one ear and out the other.  He didn’t think he would ever become a diabetes statistic.  With that thought in the mind of a newly diagnosed diabetic, the silent disease then does the most damage to the bodies of those it invades.

Diabetes is a disease in which the body has a shortage of insulin, a decreased ability to use insulin, or both.  When diabetes is not controlled, glucose and fats remain in the blood and, over time, damage is done to vital organs, blood vessels, skin, and body limbs.

Diabetes can be silent because it can exist for a long time within the body without presenting diabetic symptoms.  Sometimes the symptoms appear long after major damage has been done, and diabetics then learn they have the disease along with its life-threatening complications that can include some of all these medical conditions:  heart disease, blindness, limb loss, kidney failure, nerve damage, or blood circulation cessation.

When asked how diabetes affected his health and quality of life, Tony explained that, “I’m insulin dependent, legally blind and who is now a double amputee below the knees.  So almost everything in my life has changed because of diabetes.”  As a former customer service representative at the Xerox Company, he can no longer work due to his sight issue.

In 2014, Tony received the devastating news from his doctor that one of his legs would have to be amputated in order to save his life. That news came after being told for three prior years that he would eventually lose his leg.  Before being told the bad news of impending limb loss, Tony had endured multiple surgeries and various types of treatment in an attempt to save his leg.

After the leg amputation below the knee, Tony attempted to get back to his normal way of life as best he could and was determined to overcome the challenges he faced with having only one leg. He resumed his hobby of showing his much beloved Ford Mustang in car shows across the state as much as he could with his first prosthetic leg.  Prior to losing his leg, Tony had won many trophies when showing his car, a well-loved hobby of his for many years.

Then in 2015, diabetes struck again with a vengeance when Tony heard for the second time the devastating words, “We have to amputate your leg today.  Without the immediate amputation, you could lose your life.”  Tony says the second amputation took a serious toll on him mentally and emotionally.  He was not as prepared for losing his second leg as he was with the first loss.  His surgeons, Dr. Nick Abdi, and Dr. Keith Menes of Lexington, worked to save Tony’s life by amputating his second leg.

With the loss of his second leg within a year of losing the first, Tony became a diabetes statistic that says in persons with diabetes who have a lower extremity amputation, up to 55% of those people will require the amputation of the second leg within 2-3 years.

Adjusting to everyday life since the loss of both legs has been a difficult process for Tony, and there are still many things he cannot do such as activities that require him to be close to the ground.  He says, “I love showing my Mustang car, but now I’m unable to clean it like I want to because I can’t get down to do that.”

Another challenge for him is to drive himself to the car shows in his prize winning Ford, as he did in past years.  He has to depend on friends and family members to drive him to surrounding towns where car shows take place, even if it is just to view other vintage and special cars like his shiny black Mustang.

The story of Tony Coulter’s battle against diabetes and its relentless damage to his body continues as he unfortunately has to deal with losing his sight to the disease.  According to Tony, “Losing my legs has been hard, but losing my sight has been even harder and more limiting in my everyday life.  I am now dependent on others since I can’t see to drive.”

Because he has lost vision, Tony again becomes a diabetes statistic that says each year 12,000-24,000 people lose their sight because of diabetes. In people 20 to 74 years of age, diabetes is the leading cause of new blindness.

Tony has excellent advice for people who are pre-diabetic or battling the early stages of the silent disease.  He advises, “Keep a close watch on your health and take action early on when diabetes is suspected (pre-diabetes) and when a diagnosis is given.  Check your blood sugar as much as you can, and don’t ever think amputation will never happen to you with diabetes.”

He also advised that diabetics should take all medications as prescribed by physicians and take the disease seriously.  Knowing another diabetes statistic that almost 25.8 million people (8.3 % of U.S. population) in the United States have diabetes, Tony emphasizes that, “Diabetes can be more dangerous than you can ever imagine!”

The future life of this brave young man could be viewed by himself and others as being a dark and terrifying way of life without legs and vision.  But Tony does not see life that way when he states, “My prosthetic legs are a blessing from God, and they allow me to walk again.  My life’s journey with diabetes has been hard, and I’ve been down, but I am determined to not give up!”

Carmen Coulter, Tony’s sister-in-law who helps him with many tasks as he adjusts to using two prosthetic legs, shares her admiration for how Tony has fought to regain his ability to live life as normal as possible.  “As a family member, it has been hard watching Tony suffer so much the last few years.  It has been a huge blessing seeing him doing so well with his prosthetics.  He has fought hard the last two years to get his life back to normal as much as possible.  I don’t think the loss of his legs would be that big of a deal for him if he wasn’t losing his eyesight, too.”

There seems to be few things Tony Coulter will allow to prevent him from standing strong in his battle against the debilitating and sometimes deadly disease of diabetes.  He shows courage and strong internal strength when he participates in 3K and 5K community runs/walks to raise awareness about diabetes and funding in the ongoing search for a cure of the disease.

He has walked on his prosthetic legs for two years during the American Diabetes Association’s annual Step Out for Diabetes event in Lexington.  Tony is an inspiration to many other diabetics from Anderson County as he leads the “DiaBEATERS”, a local walking team that also participates in the annual diabetes awareness and fundraising event held at Keeneland in June each year.

Sharing his journey as a diabetic, who refuses to allow the silent disease to make extreme noise in his life and keep him down, Tony Coulter continues to stand tall on his new legs while speaking out about diabetes and its impact on human lives.

-Written by Donna Crain Drury

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Posted in Family & Community, Health & Fitness.

2 Comments

  1. Tony you are a truly blessed and a amazing person with a passion for stangs and helping others by being a inspiration..God is with you my friend..

  2. Tony Coulter is a friend of mine for many years. Tony you are a true inspiration to me. When I see him at car events I will holler at him and he stands still till I reach him for a massive hug. Tony cannot see me but he knows my voice. So Hey Tony you are the most amazing person I know. Keep up the good work.

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