Nurse with prosthetic leg uses experience to connect with amputee patients

Posted at 7:35 PM, May 02, 2018
and last updated 2019-07-24 17:13:54-04

Jan Abens believes the best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others.

For nearly four decades, Abens has spent hours on her feet to make sure her patients received the best care possible. She's been working in the trauma center at Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest for the last five years.

"I help people with their pain after surgery to help manage it and make sure it’s controlled,” Abens said.

But six years ago, the roles were reversed after Abens was involved in a traumatic motorcycle accident.

“They took me to surgery right away because I had ruptured my spleen," Abens said. "They tried to repair my leg and when they went to restore the circulation, the potassium that was in my lower leg went to my heart and my heart stopped.”

When Abens woke up, she saw that her leg had been amputated from above the knee. The decision was made by her doctors during surgery to keep her alive.

“At first, I was really upset that they amputated my leg," Abens said. "It took me awhile to accept that and then I realized how grateful I am that they did and that they saved my life.”

Abens now uses her experience to connect with patients on a different level.

"No nurse is a better nurse than Jan Abens. I can tell you that," said Dr. Jeff Plagenhoef, chairman of the anesthesiology department at Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest. "Her heart shines through in every smile that she gives, every word she speaks. Her commitment to excellence and dedication to make sure every patient gets what they need is not surpassed by anybody else that I have ever worked with." 

Abens has created a special bond with one patient, in particular, named Tevan Garcia. The 23-year-old spent five weeks under her care after he was also involved in a motorcycle accident.

"I was losing a lot of blood and everything and we actually made the decision to amputate a couple of days later because the reconstruction process of my foot was so severe, there was just no coming back to save it,” Garcia said.

For Garcia, his greatest fear was that his amputation would hold him back in life.

"You know, riding motorcycles, skateboarding, just being outdoors," Garica said. "Fishing, hiking with my dogs, everything was just going to be, I thought stripped away from me. That I wasn’t going to be able to do it or do it the same.”

Shortly after meeting Abens, his outlook changed entirely once he saw how she was thriving despite her missing limb. Abens explained to Garcia that she's still able to golf, go bike riding and be active with her family.

“When I met Jan and she told me she was an amputee, it was like talking to my mom pretty much," Garcia said. "Everything just flowed nice and there was no barrier through the conversation. It was easy to talk to her.”

Garcia was discharged from the hospital about six months ago, but his relationship with Abens is still going strong.

“Best friends basically, we talk all the time about anything," Garcia said. "If I have a question about something to do with my prosthetic leg or an amputation or if I just have a question about something silly, anything!”

The majority of their visits now happen outside hospital walls. They've started an amputee support group together and they also plan to attend the 2018 Amputee Coalition National Conference in just a few months.

After attending the conference, Garcia hopes to become a licensed peer visitor to help others going through the same transition. 

"From this point on, I want to do something involved with helping other amputees," Garcia said. "Having someone like Jan is very special and I want to be that person for somebody else."

"To watch Tevan excel and have goals and get back into life, wanting to help the amputee community, it gives me great pride and satisfaction," Abens said. "He’s like one of my kids.”

The unlikely friendship was brought together by painful circumstances that both Garcia and Abens believe happened for a reason.

“I’m a much more effective nurse now than I was before," Abens said. "I have more fulfillment in my job than I ever have before.”

Proving that tough times don't last, but tough people do.

“It is a bad situation that you’re losing part of your body, but so many great things do happen after it," Garcia said. “It’s hard to accept it, but it’s true.”

The amputee support group meets at Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest the second Tuesday of every month at 6 p.m. and caregivers are also able to attend.

The group has met four times so far and includes 11 amputees.

"I want to reach as many amputees in the community as we can so that they know they're not alone," Abens said.

To learn more about the 2018 Amputee Coalition National Conference, click here

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