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Leg amputation doesn't keep Oak Lawn native down

  • Written by Claudia Parker

 

laura heneghan photo 2-23

Submitted photo

Oak Lawn native Laura Heneghan enjoys herself on a vacation trip to Las Vegas.

 

 

Refusing to let go can be deadly!

For Laura Heneghan, of Lombard, it was holding on to a limb that nearly cost her life. The Oak Lawn native and 1987 Richards High School graduate said, “My legs were my best attribute. I received more compliments about my legs than anything else.”

Beyond the vanity of the matter, Laura had much deeper concerns about having her leg amputated. She was a mom of two elementary-aged children, her daughter, Courtney, 8, and her son, Jordan, 7.

“Will my kids love me without having a lap to sit in? Will I lose my friends? Will I feel like less of a person with only one leg?”

Laura said those thoughts plagued her. She prolonged the decision to have surgery until the infected tumor in her leg encapsulated her blood vessels causing the tumor to rupture. When that occurred, the infection penetrated her bone.

It was either her leg or her life.

“One of the most surprising revelations I had after my surgery was how much easier things became,” recalled Laura. “I felt a tremendous sense of relief. I wish I’d done it much sooner.”

Five years previous to the amputation, Laura was diagnosed with cancer. “Initially, I was misdiagnosed,” said Laura. “Doctors thought I had an adductor strain.”

An adductor muscle strain is an acute injury to the groin muscles on the medial aspect (inside) of the thigh. Her assumed injury was treated with physical therapy that included an ultrasound, heat and electrical muscle stimulation with hopes to bring blood back to the tissue for healing. However, Laura in fact had a malignant blood tumor. The therapy fed the tumor and it grew -- to the size of a softball.

An aggressive radiation regimen was administered by the well-respected Fermilab, known for treating advanced tumors difficult to reach or that have been slow to respond to other forms of treatment. Laura said the treatment was so potent it killed the cancer more rapidly than her lymph nodes could handle. Lymph nodes filter lymph of harmful pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. The nodes also filter out cellular waste, dead cells, and cancerous cells.

Laura’s dead cells were lying dormant in her leg wreaking havoc.

“My leg was enormously swollen, didn’t function and it left me in chronic pain,” said Laura. “I was on the strongest pain killers prescribed and I still felt pain.”

Laura said being on medication habitually left her groggy, emotional and isolated.

“My husband would have to take the kids to birthday parties and social outings without me because I was always too tired or in too much pain to go anywhere,” explained Laura.

Her best attribute had become her biggest adversary.

“I had to use crutches because my leg didn’t bend,” recollected Laura. “Even with crutches I was challenged because the weight of my leg was so heavy I’d have to drag it.”

The reality of waking from surgery to one less limb might have left most devastated, but Laura said that isn’t what she noticed was missing. “The pain was gone,” said Laura. “I actually felt relief.”

That wasn’t the only surprise Laura experienced.

Laura found she could propel forward on crutches much easier without hauling around dead weight. She also discovered that her children she worried wouldn’t be able to accept her enjoyed her much more after surgery.

“They loved seeing me happy and enjoying life again instead of laying around stagnant, in pain and sleeping all the time.”    

Laura added that, “God brought me through it. He put people in my life that gave me love, support and encouragement. From my mom sitting by my hospital bedside, my kids helping change bandages, and my church family and friends getting me out of the house. God sent help.”

Laura said surviving cancer and getting through her amputation gave her a renewed sense of passion and purpose. After having been a stay-at-home mom she went back to school and earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Trinity Christian College. She started working in school District 124 in 2001. She first taught English Language Learners and now she is an ELL coach.

“Never underestimate the power of what you can do with God’s help,” said Laura. “Don’t ever give up on yourself.”

This December, Laura’s slated to walk across the stage to receive a master’s in Educational Leadership with a Principal endorsement. She’s spoken at a half dozen conferences on a national and state level, teaching educators how to gain a deeper understanding of students where English is a second language.

Laura learned that losing her leg didn’t cripple her, it was holding on to it that was. Now she has a life she didn’t know she could experience.

The first time I saw Laura I was getting out of my car with my purse, laptop and camera bag. It was heavy and difficult to carry and I felt bogged down by the load until I looked up. Laura was walking across the parking lot with a purse, workbag, stack of papers, and a coffee. She was walking on one leg, on crutches. Did I mention she was in a stylish dress wearing a matching sandal that had the nerve to have a high heel?

How dare I complain about what I had to carry. I was walking on two legs with a pair of flat shoes.

I wanted to share Laura’s story because it’s such a great example for anyone refusing to let go of dead weight. Maybe for you it’s a relationship, business, profession or job title. Maybe at one point the attachment was an attribute, but now it’s your nemesis. It’s time to detach from that which is dead so you can live again.

You can learn more about Laura following her blog at http://sohereiam.weebly.com/

Claudia Parker is an author, photographer and a reporter. Her columns appear every second and fourth Thursday of each month. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .