When 58-year-old North Merokian resident Henry Hey, who graduated Calhoun High School in 1977, entered the hospital to correct a circulation problem in a toe in his left foot, he was told by his doctor it would be a three-hour procedure in which he could return home after no more than a week.
But what happened next turned his world and those of his loved ones completely upside down and into a nightmare that will affect them rest of their lives.
Henry Hey, Calhoun graduate, and Donna Becker, Kennedy graduate
Walking into the hospital on two solid legs on June 13, after surgery he instead spent the entire summer engulfed in setback after setback until finally leaving the hospital on Labor Day in a wheelchair, missing both legs above the knees.
Henry could have never envisioned undergoing seven surgeries and three amputations – and leave without his legs. “The doctor said I gave consent for the operations, and I gave consent only for the last two, but not for the legs being removed,” Henry told Your NewsMag in an interview.
His long-time girlfriend Donna Becker, a 1982 Kennedy graduate who works as a faux finisher, said she did not have the legal power to have the operations stopped. “He had five operations in three days,” Becker said with exasperation, and he must have still been under the effects of sedation, so “how could he have given consent?”
Now back home, Henry sat uncomfortably in his wheelchair for this interview. Becker showed the rope dangling down from the ceiling above the bed Henry now needs to grab to lift up from being on his back just to sit upright. “I can still feel my legs, they are called phantom legs,” he said. “So, once I’m upright in bed, I have to think carefully about not just stepping down toward the floor.” “But,” he admits, “It has happened.”
A rope dangling above his bed from the ceiling helps him to sit up when he first awakes
As Henry grapples with the frightening new reality of living in a world without legs the rest of his life, a slow transformation is also occurring – he displays a remarkably positive disposition. “He is a tremendous source of strength for me and others, and is very strong willed,” said Becker, who has been his life partner and companion for eight years. “He is also an inspiration to everyone who meets him,” she added.
Through this harrowing ordeal, Henry appears to have lost none of his natural sense of humor. “I told the nurse one day that I had misplaced my legs, and didn’t know where I had put them,” he told Your NewMag of his time in hospital.
Or, when Becker, who also spent the summer with him in the hospital, fell asleep in his bed one night, he said to a new nurse on the floor who didn’t know Becker: “I woke up and there was a girl in my bed, but I like her and I think I’ll keep her!”
“That’s a classic reaction formation,” remarked Dr. Philip Corsello, a clinical psychologist of cognitive behavior in private practice who explained that the development of humor (to laugh at) under such a circumstance is a defense mechanism working to dispel his anger and despair, which will help him keep depression away.
Being a carpenter who, along with Becker, has worked tirelessly to help others in times in need, Henry and Donna told Your NewsMag they feel blessed at this time by friends who, once learning of Henry’s life challenge, began donating their time to help build a new deck in his North Merrick home that includes a platform elevator to reach to the ground for better access, open up his kitchen, widen all the doorways so he can easily navigate through them in his wheelchair and raise the height of his recliner so he can more easily sit in and get out from the wheelchair. His son, Henry Jr., also lowered the legs of his dad’s bed for easier access.
Becker said the carpenters gutted the bathroom to the studs and rebuilt it to make it handicap accessible – while Henry was still in the hospital.
Meanwhile, several other family, friends and neighbors have been equally helpful in doing various jobs around the house, such as cleaning after construction and shopping to improve his circumstance.
“We are extremely grateful for all of our friends’ help at this time,” Becker said. “Thank you.”
Henry has learned just as quickly what he believes he will need to return to a normal mobile life, one that offers the freedom to move about at will, free of the restrictions he feels currently encased in. “I was told that the only prosthetic legs I can use are microprocessor C-legs,” which are prosthetic legs containing microchips that calculate his body movements and speed of his pace to provide a “normal” walking gait. Featuring 3D motion analysis, soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are being fitted with them. Without such functional prosthetic legs, he says he may be in the chair for the rest of his life.
The legs are $75,000 a piece, and have to be replaced every four-to-five years, because of the way the body changes with age.
He will also need a van with a lift and handheld controls with which to drive. “I will need hand controls to drive because, while I may still ‘feel’ my legs and make a motion to stop,” it would be a dangerous circumstance to be in, with no legs.
STEPPING UP FUNDRAISING EFFORTS
Becker told Your NewsMag a GoFundMe charity fundraising account has been set up that had accrued over $13,000 since starting at the end of August, but much more fundraising needs to be accomplished to reach Henry’s goals of being truly mobile once more.
Son Henry Jr., 21, also found a job on the Nautical Mile and walks to work every day with the determination to help his father financially. Businesses in the communities have begun speaking of offering services, space or providing donations as giveaways at fundraising events. For example, The Long island Trading Post in Bellmore, Souper Fry, Mutts & Butts, Music Emporium, Via Roma Pizza, Travel-A-Plenty, A gala Events, American Blackbelt Academy, Commercial Flooring Specialists, Bagel Boss, My Hero, Guy Anthony, Santorini Greek Restaurant, Garfield Pharmacy, Bellmore-Kennedy Alumni, Dr. Gary Morgenstern, RS Jones, Dr. of Pediatrics Erica Schwartz Cohen, and a growing list of other Bellmore and Merrick businesses appear ready to help Henry in some way achieve his goal of being mobile once more.
Apartment 1828 on Sunrise Highway in Merrick will hold a fundraiser in Henry’s name on Sunday, November 13, under the old Jugs & Strokers name.
Laura McKinnon, a manager at the Long Island Trading Post, said the post would help Henry with development of handicap accessible ramps and other equipment within his home, and help him get to doctor’s appointments, as examples.
Ron Steiger, publicity chairperson for the Kennedy Alumni Association, told Your NewsMag he has already publicized Becker’s need for equipment and contributions toward Henry’s goal of independence, in which he has already taken possession of an electric wheelchair from a former Bellmore alumni as a result. Steiger also helped Becker to set up the Go Fund Me page at www.gofundme.com/2jry4euc/. Henry and Becker can be reached at he GoFundMe page.