RAVENSWOOD - In late 2011, Scott Kelley found himself sitting in a hospital bed looking back on multiple surgeries, months of rehab and conflicting analysis by various doctors that brought him seven hours away from losing his left leg to amputation.
It was a hard pill to swallow for a 46-year-old man who grew up in Watertown Massachusetts and spent his entire youth as a standout athlete specializing as a hockey goalie but also playing football and basketball at Watertown High School.
Kelley was diagnosed with type-2 diabetes in 1998. As he got older, he had added weight to his 6-1 frame. He was managing the disease with oral medication and continued his daily routine with no problems.
One morning in 2002 while living in Nashville Tennessee, Kelley dropped a can of shaving cream in the shower and received a small cut on the big toe of his left foot.
He wrapped the toe and went to work for two weeks where he worked in a warehouse on his feet all day.
The toe became infected and before he knew it, was leaving his boot full of blood on a daily basis. At the time, affordable health insurance wasn't available to him and treatment was minimal. Eventually, a culture of the wound provided doctors the information to prescribe the correct antibiotic to heal the big toe on Kelley's left foot.
"After years of having insufficient insurance but still having to earn a living, I was at a crossroads in 2003 and finally lost my big toe to another infection," said Kelley.
Kelley was in a situation that many blue collar Americans can relate to. Health insurance through their employer, if offered at all was too expensive and they make (barely) too much money to get help through the state.
Even if they manage to pay for health insurance the co-pays are often enough to prevent the insured from even going to a doctor at all.
Around this time, Kelley moved to West Virginia to reconcile with his ex-wife, Deborah and to be closer to family.
For Kelley, the bone had become infected and would only spread if action was not taken. That same year while rehabbing, he entered a program at West Virginia State College that helped him receive certification to become a counselor for a men's shelter in Charleston.
As a Case Manager for a re-entry program for non-violent offenders entering society, he found that helping others rebuild their life really grounded him and helped him to realize what was important. Seeing others struggling made him appreciate all that he had.
A high percentage of the men in the program have substance abuse problems and often, mental health issues. From the beginning of the program's inception, Kelley has been an employee.
Page 2 of 3 - "Every day I have the opportunity to make a positive impact on someone's life. I take that very seriously."
Eight years later in 2011, Kelley was still fighting with infections from the same area of his foot where the toe was amputated. By this time, the infection had moved up his leg. At this juncture, he had adequate health insurance and decided to find a doctor to help him.
Vascular surgeon Dr. Eric Mantz (CAMC), made one last effort to save the leg for Kelley but the writing was on the wall. After months of daily hyperbaric treatment and countless trips to specialists, Kelley told Dr. Mantz that he was ready to lose the leg. Mantz told him that it was a good decision at that point. All options had been exhausted and his overall health was at risk.
Mantz and the CAMC staff made him feel good about his decision and his frightening situation.
"I was going to work with a pick line in each day and then going for treatment in the afternoon. I would see slight progress, then I would take a few steps back, over and over."
Kelley began to prepare for a BKA (below knee amputation). Dr. Michael Covelli (surgeon) performed the operation early one morning in late October 2011.
"I just remember having the phantom pains after I was awake for a while. My brain was sending impulses to move my leg but of course it was gone," Kelley said. "I was in tremendous pain."
Covelli also performed hernia surgery for Kelley at the same time as the amputation, making the experience that much more painful.
While recovering, he fell and reopened the incision. As a diabetic, he was healing slower and the fall caused the incision to scrape the ground and reopen the wound.
Kelley continued to try to walk with the temporary leg and was advised not to do so much by his doctors.
"It is hard not to get excited. I was tired of sitting in a recliner and I wanted to get out. It wasn't the best decision I have ever made."
It was around this time that the couple moved to Ravenswood to be very close to family in Jackson County.
"We were impressed at what a quiet town Ravenswood is. I remember when Mayor Ihle was campaigning and it amazed me that he came to my door and talked to me personally and asked me questions. He was very sincere. It says a lot about a small town when they are progressive enough to elect a young man like that. We walk our dogs every night in Ravenswood and we feel safe here."
Originally, the first prognosis was 3-4 months before being fitted for the permanent leg. A year has passed and he is still using the temporary leg. There was a small scar that had to heal and the flaps of skin that are often referred to as "Dog Ears" had to become more rounded.
Page 3 of 3 - He took comfort in having Deb at his side.
"Deb has been so supportive and encouraging through this. I can't imagine coming this far without her. She is an amazing woman. Having someone near me like her who really knew me was tremendous. The adversity has brought us closer together."
In his line of work, Kelley was frightened that his limb may be looked upon as a sign of weakness.
"It was important for me to walk in there and do my job without getting special treatment. Two of Kelly's best friends and co-workers, Dural Miller and Elliott Roseberry stuck by his side while he was off of work.
"Those guys came to see me, brought me things I needed and actually took on my case load while I was off. I am very thankful that my job was held for me."
Kelley has already ridden his bike, shot basketball and attended various concerts on his temporary leg. He enjoys attending Ravenswood High sporting events, especially basketball.
"The Pit reminds me of some of the small schools where I grew up in Massachusetts. There is magic in that gym. I love how this community supports their young people."
Kelley's dog, (named Chance) has been a constant companion through the ordeal. He found the beagle wandering around on the interstate 10 years ago, lost, hungry and cold.
"I see people every day who have more to overcome than I do. I just want to move on with my life and give back to others the love that has been given to me. I am a very fortunate man."