Get Out and GoLinda K Olson
Last year, the opening session of the World Parkinson Congress featured a speaker who literally took a terrible situation and turned it into an incredibly positive experience. The woman who turned everything upside down for us was Dr. Linda K. Olson. With a smile on her face, she proceeded to tell the captivated audience how she survived a gruesome accident involving the van she was traveling in and a train in Germany 41 years ago.
If you can do it, I can do it.
Linda and her husband were just out of medical school when they traveled to Germany on vacation. Their van was hit by a train, causing the van to roll over, shattering their lives and Linda’s body. Her injur ies were so severe that the doctors needed to amputate both legs above the knees and her right arm. In addition, she had fractures in her spine. When she finally saw her husband, who had a broken ankle, she said to him that she would understand if he left. He responded “I didn’t marry your arms or your legs. If you can do it, I can do it.”
Life as a triple amputee cannot be easy. But Linda was determined to do everything. While in rehab, she prioritized what she wanted to do in life. Highest on her list: being able to do the activities of daily living, driving , use artificial legs to walk and go back to work.
Work was the easiest. Her career as a radiologist took off because it only required her to sit and read scans on the computer, something that she could do easily. She knew she could go back to that.
In the years to come she did learn to walk with prostheses, had two children and traveled the world with her family, including being carried in a custom made backpack on her husband Dave’s back when on camping trips. As she said, it didn’t take long to figure out that fake legs were useless in the wilderness. She was pulled on dog-sleds, by horses and even in a wheelbarrow. Canoeing and Kayaking were things she could actually participate in. But specially made skis attached to fake legs did not work at all.
Five years ago, her life took another u-turn. She started having anxiety attacks, restlessness, difficulty writing. Within a few weeks, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Exercise was difficult, but she worked with a trainer and eventually learned to do things like one-armed push-ups, cardio exercises and more. She attended the WPC in Portland because she wanted to learn about living with PD. She ended up being on a panel discussion for the newly diagnosed, which led to her keynote address at the WPC Opening in Kyoto.
Accept, Adapt, Innovate
What got her through all of this was her attitude. And of course, her infectious smile. Her key message is to “Accept, Adapt and Innovate.” If you can get enough people to help you, you have enough determination and are willing to do things a little differently, you can get there. The hardest thing we have to do is to accept that our condition that it is real, then you can adapt and find new ways to do things- to innovate.
She brought us on her journey with her, not for pity, but to celebrate the good things in life, even as a person with Parkinson’s who just happens to be a triple amputee.
Because I cannot do justice to her story, I encourage you to watch the video recording here.
And you can now read her study in her newly published book Gone, A Memoir of Love, Body, and Taking Back my Life