ROCKFORD - Former Beloiter Randy Garetson, 52, is spreading the message that amputees can live a full life, but that doesn't mean his life has been without struggles.
An amputee is a person who has a portion of or an entire limb removed. Garetson grew up in Beloit and still has family in the city, but he moved to Rockford for more job opportunities. He has diabetes, which eventually developed into Charcot. Garetson said Charcot is a syndrome that causes the bones in a person's feet to crumble.
"Once it crumbles the bones have no support," Garetson said.
Garetson lost one leg in August of 2015. He has filed a discrimination claim with his place of former employment after his employers said he couldn't return to work, since it would be a liability. He currently has two part-time jobs and has had to get a new prosthetic leg, which can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $40,000, because his remaining limb has shrunk so much.
"It's been a struggle for the last year and a half...I'm still struggling every day, and am trying get on disability," Garetson said. "It's difficult to be walking on this limb. (The missing limb) plays a huge role, because you can't do the same thing you could do as a normal leg."
He's in pain when he walks on his prosthetic leg, often having to adjust his sock and making sure the prosthetic limb is on tight. Otherwise his leg begins to swing around almost like a pendulum.
However, Garetson is remaining hopeful and is working to help fellow amputees adjust to their new lives. He and a group of friends started a chapter of the Amputee Resource Network. Though based in Rockford, the group seeks to help other amputees throughout the Stateline Area and beyond, including members in Carol Stream, Belvidere and South Beloit.
Garetson currently serves as treasurer of the group that started around January of this year. The group has a Facebook page with 39 members as of noon on Thursday. The group's first fundraiser raised $1,200, which made it so 10 of the members could be certified as peer support trainers through the Amputee Coalition to speak to amputees.
"We now can take calls or go to hospitals and give support for the struggles we've all been through," Garetson said.
So far he hasn't had the opportunity to provide support to anyone, but he's eager to provide support to new amputees. The group is planning another fundraiser to help pay for expenses - a pie sale that runs until Thursday.
He said the group means so much to the community, with amputees who are dealing with their dependence on a caregiver, phantom pains and depression.
"We try to support one another to get through the tough times to show there is life after losing a limb, and you can have a normal life," Garetson said.
He said the group meets twice a month, and amputees can get resources, such as information on insurance, medical care and more. The group also just turned in their papers to become a nonprofit.
"It's like we're one big family," Garetson said.
He knows that one day he is guaranteed to lose another limb as his foot has already begun to show symptoms. However, he still knows he can life a full life with the resources, friends and family he has. For more information on the group or to order a pie, search "Amputee Resource Network" on Facebook or call Garetson at 815-298-6671.