Saginaw man helps amputees regain their mobility, find support

Updated: Oct. 27, 2022 at 11:00 PM EDT
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SAGINAW, Mich. (WNEM) - Scott Baranek of Saginaw lost his leg in 1994 in a motorcycle accident, which forever changed his life. His plans of becoming a teacher and coaching basketball quickly faded away.

After the accident, Baranek said he went through an array of feelings and emotions, one of which was grief. After going through the process of getting his prosthetic leg and reflecting on his life, he accepted the fact that he was now an amputee.

“Sometimes you encounter certain events in your life where you realize that things are going to change,” Baranek said.

Realizing his new normal, Baranek made a shift in his plans and decided to go back to school to become a physical therapist so he could help other amputees. Unfortunately, he soon realized that he wouldn’t necessarily be working with the people he had hoped to help.

“I was finding out that, you know, amputees are less than 1 percent of the population. So, if I was working in physical therapy, I would be doing more like backs and rotator cuff type things,” Baranek said.

That is when he started thinking about working in the prosthetics industry. One year after losing his leg, he got the opportunity to work with the company that made his first prosthetic limb, Bremer Prosthetics.

Being an amputee himself gave him a better insight into his patients. Knowing the difficulties and challenges amputees go through each day, Baranek felt more needed to be done for them. So, with his business partner Nate Kapa, the two began the program “Step Up.” Step Up is a free program to help amputees adjust to life with their new limbs. This cause has become important to Baranek.

Baranek said you’re lucky if you get three or four months of physical therapy.

“We always say it takes two years to maximize what you can do on a prosthetic limb,” Baranek said.

Step Up helped fill a void that people had after they received an amputation. Once a month, Baranek and Kapa host their program in a studio in Frankenmuth where amputees can gather to find support and help with living with their prosthetic(s). This program first guides them through some exercises to help them get moving and reclaim their mobility, but it also creates a space to make friends with other people living in similar situations.

“People are going through these situations and they feel like they’re alone. When they can talk to other people and relate to them, they feel like they’re not on their own. It helps to, it helps give you a sense of calm,” Baranek said.

For Rae Plumb, being part of the Step Up program has made a tremendous difference in her quality of life.

“My life before as you were asking, was not very, I wasn’t living the life that I deserve,” Plumb said. “The camaraderie that we have brought me back each time. I just, I can’t see my life without coming to a class like this, and I’ve learned so much.”

Plumb said before joining Step Up, she struggled daily and she would become depressed and frustrated. Thanks to Step Up, she has found her tribe and is now living the life she feels she deserves. This is a sentiment all who join the classes and discussions share.

“This is the fourth time I’ve been here, and it’s helping me some,” said David Randall. “It’s made a big difference. I don’t think I could get as much as I’m getting as far as what I’m getting from these guys.”

During the pandemic, Step up went virtual like many programs. Not only did the program reach their regulars in mid-Michigan, but amputees from across the country and the world. However, not being able to meet in person showed Baranek just how important the classes are to his patients.

“I really started noticing my new patients that weren’t allowed to take advantage of that, there was, there was a gap and the decline in the quality of care,” Baranek said.

He hopes with the program, a group that he says is less than 1 percent of the population is afforded a better standard of care.

“By creating these online communities and things like that, we want to just try to raise the standards for what people think, you know, what a quality of life can be on a prosthetic limb. So, that everyone who is living their life in a prosthesis or everyone who’s in the industry or in this profession is doing more to help,” Baranek said.

With his advocacy he is working to get everyone, from the insurance companies to a person on the street, to understand what an amputee goes through each day. Baranek said many companies and people don’t understand what is needed for them to function.

“People will say, ‘oh well, you know, someone shouldn’t be able to, you know, be on disability because you work all the time.’ How does that make you feel? And I’ve looked at people and said, ‘well, what level of pain do you feel like you should tell someone they have to endure?’ And they look at you like, ‘pain? How is that part of the equation?’ Cause they don’t understand what goes on behind the scenes,” Baranek said.

Baranek would like to see Step Up grow to help more amputees, with groups forming across the country and someday around the world.

“It would be nice to think that we could create a community, you know, an amputee community that’s helping to make things better for everyone. I always say that if things were better, if I could contribute in a way that would make things better for this profession than when I started then that’s what it would be all about,” he said.

Step Up isn’t just for individuals with amputees now. Caregivers, family members, and friends are also welcomed to join the classes. Baranek said having them there and taking part will help them better understand what their loved ones are going through. It will also help them better assist in post-operation care and emotional support.

Step Up took a break for the summer, but they are back at it again this fall. To register for the class, you can click here.