Veteran learns to walk again

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 3, 2010

Editor’s note: The Dart is a weekly feature in which a reporter and photographer throw a dart at a map and find a story where it lands. The week The Dart fell on Marquette Avenue.

Johnny Rodriguez is taking each day step by step.

The 64-year-old Vietnam War veteran has undergone two triple bypass surgeries, and cardiovascular disease led to the amputation of his right leg last year.

When The Dart landed at Rodriguez’s house on Marquette Avenue Wednesday, Rodriguez was lounging on his couch watching television news. His $4,500 prosthetic leg was an arm’s length away.

Rodriguez is eager to walk again, but a staph infection has slowed his progress. Once an active member of the Adams County Sheriff’s Office’s search and rescue team, Rodriguez hopes to eventually return to duty.

“Everybody says I want things to happen yesterday, and I say, ‘Yeah, that’s the way I am,’” Rodriguez said. “I see people on TV running and jogging, and I want to do that.”

Rodriguez marveled at his prosthetic leg just in front of his couch recliner. The foot of the leg was outfitted with a white sock and a white New Balance sneaker.

“It’s a fancy leg, and it takes some getting used to,” Rodriguez said. “The biggest and hardest part is getting my balance. Once I get my balance on it, everything will work out.

Another challenge, Rodriguez says, is adjusting to life as a handicapped person. He’s made a list of approximately 25 local businesses that are less than accommodating to its handicapped patrons, and he’s contacted local officials and business owners about the importance of handicap-accessible amenities.

“I didn’t know it was so hard to be handicapped until I became handicapped,” Rodriguez said. “It’s hard to get my wheelchair through the doors sometimes, and people behind the desks are looking at you, but not helping you.

“Some stores have gotten used to me coming in, and now they open the doors for me when they see me.”

Asking for help has taken some getting used to for Rodriguez. It’s a struggle for him to transport groceries from his truck to his house, but his neighbors won’t allow him to perform his chores alone.

“I’ve got to get used to being helped,” he said. “I hate to ask people for help because I feel it’s their free time.

“I can’t do yard work anymore. I used to love flowers and things like that, but my neighbor cuts the grass for me now, and his wife helps me bring in the groceries. You can’t beat good neighbors like that.”

Wednesday afternoon, Rodriguez headed to Stine to purchase an electric smoker for the Boston butt he would prepare later that night. Though his circumstances have changed, Rodriguez refuses to let his disability interfere with life’s pleasures.

“I’ve been independent all my life, but I hope and I believe it will all work out,” he said.