Finding a new normal after amputation

At just 8 years old, Jude Hill is finding his own way.

His lifelong journey as a double amputee began at OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois, where he was a patient for four weeks after his feet and lower legs were injured in a lawn mower accident.

“It felt like an eternity. Now I look back and say it was only 28 days,” Jude’s mom, Jen Hill, said.

That 28-day stay began in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), where children receive the highest level of care possible. As his medical team constantly monitored Jude and assessed his condition, his parents had to learn to take things as they come.

“That’s how it is in the PICU, you live moment by moment. Sometimes we didn’t even know what the next 10 minutes would hold,” Jen said.

Quickly the family found a routine. Jude’s parents stayed by his side around the clock, sleeping in his room on a recliner and a couch that converts into a small bed. They posted updates to their CaringBridge site about Jude’s condition and kept music playing constantly.

“You get to know people, the cleaning crew and the nurses. It’s this isolated little world within Peoria that we lived in, and it became home very easily,” Jen said.

“The PICU is like a holy place – a very sacred, holy place. There’s just that air about it that you tread lightly. You want to show respect for other families’ trauma.”

Finding a new normal

After he left the hospital, Jude’s parents provided his care – tending to his wounds, finding the right prosthetics, helping him through physical therapy and dealing with the emotional trauma of the accident.

Support from Pediatric Rehabilitation and the child life specialists at OSF Children’s Hospital helped prepare Jude and his family for the challenges ahead.

“The child life specialists taught us how to talk with Jude about the accident and what to expect him to say about it,” Jen said. “One of the reasons Jude has done so well is because we allowed him the space to talk about what happened over and over again.”

Jude has adjusted to life as an amputee. He and his parents have learned how to deal with the many issues that come up with a growing kid using prostheses.

“As long as we keep him in the prostheses and they are fitting properly, it’s just normal. At least our normal,” Jen said.

Jude plays soccer, rides his bike and swims, among the many sports he’s tried and loved. With five brothers and sisters he’s never at a loss for a playmate. He’s also interested in trying any instrument he can get his hands on, which so far includes the guitar, ukulele, harmonica and drums.

“The hardest part of it is dealing with comments by people – just being in the spotlight by virtue of just being different. Outside of that, he just does everything everyone else is doing,” Jen said.

A place for healing

Dealing with the physical and emotional trauma of the accident has been a long, difficult road for Jude and the entire Hill family, but one that’s included many uplifting moments along with times of grief.

While it’s been nearly five years since the accident, Jude remembers his time at OSF Children’s Hospital. When the family drives by, he’ll often remark, “There’s my hospital” – the significance of such a positive sentiment isn’t lost on his parents.

“For all this kid went through there and all that happened at that hospital, for him to have fond memories of it is really strange to me. That says something about having a pediatric hospital in Peoria, where they are considering how to make this a non-traumatic experience, even if it starts with trauma,” Jen said.