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Retired Wisconsin Teacher: “The Stigma Around Limb Loss Has Eased”

    Amputation is traumatic, not just the nature of the surgery but also because of its consequences. It affects the patient’s daily life and their psychosocial relationships. According to a 2018 study, physical disability due to limb loss can lead to anxiety, loss of self-esteem, depression, despair, stigma, and isolation.

     Retired Wisconsin teacher Sean Laughlin said that the stigma around limb loss has eased.

    Society has long stigmatized individuals living with limb loss, but that is not the case lately. According to retired teacher Sean Laughlin, the stigma in society around limb loss has eased. He and his wife, Danielle Clifton, recently spoke at a lecture for the Society for Learning Unlimited (SLU) in Beloit, Wisconsin, on “Society’s Changing Attitude Toward Amputees.”

    In their presentation, Clifton cited the Americans with Disabilities Act, signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H.W. Bush. She said the act was pivotal for pushing the rights and accommodation for people with disabilities.

    Meanwhile, Laughlin attributed the easing of social stigma to how veterans are respected in the 21st century. He also shared that he has often been thanked for his service in public. Laughlin joked that he responds that he only served at the “branch of Harley Davidson.”

    Laughlin lost his leg in the summer of 2019 when he was struck by a semi-truck while riding his motorcycle. His left leg was crushed, ultimately requiring amputation after several surgeries failed to save the leg. Until the accident, Laughlin taught history to special education students.

    During his recovery, Laughlin maintained a positive outlook, even when he struggled with unspeakable pain. He attributes this attitude partly to Travis Mills, a quadruple amputee who lost his limbs while serving in Afghanistan. Mills is now a motivational speaker, and Laughlin watched his videos while recovering post-amputation at the hospital. He said Mills’ repeated mantra, “Never give up, never quit,” inspired him.

    This outlook also saved him from depression, dependence, and divorce—the “Three D’s of Limb Amputation,” according to Dr. Archie Heddings, an Associate Professor of Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine at Kansas University Hospital.  

    Armed with nuggets of wisdom from Mills’ videos, Laughlin decided never to feel ashamed of his body or develop an inferiority complex due to his amputated limb. But he said this was easier in the 21st century, where the public normalizes people with disabilities.

    Do you think the stigma around limb loss has faded? What do you think of this story?