Leg amputation has not held Jacob Hansen back

by Laura Kussman

Sounder contributor

In the 14 months since his left leg was amputated just below the knee, Jacob Hansen has grown from struggling to walk with a walker to skateboarding with his 3-year-old daughter Harper.

Hansen said while visiting close friends in the San Juans, he and his family plan to visit the skateparks on all three islands.

“Orcas’ skatepark is the best one, though,” he shared, smiling on a sunny August morning on the deck of the Orcas Hotel, awaiting the arrival of the inter-island ferry. “I don’t drop in [the halfpipe] anymore. I still have some flashbacks of my knee hyperextending.”

Hansen, who lived on Lopez Island until the age of 10, followed by Orcas for another eight years, now sports a “Level 4” lower limb prosthetic, which he says are chiefly reserved by insurance companies for paid or extreme sports athletes. Hansen and his physical therapist had to document and prove his regular biking, running and rugby practice in order to obtain it. He and his family live in Coeur d-Alene, Idaho.

“I have more hobbies now than I ever have. If I see a hobby I’m interested in, I have to do it to prove that I can,” Hansen said. “I remember being at St. Luke’s Rehabilitation facility [in Spokane, Washington]. All I wanted was to be able to play soccer with my daughter. I’m able to do that now and so much more. We went on a five-mile hike the other day. I still play no-tackle rugby. I sprint once a week. If I could do a half triathlon, that would be a huge accomplishment to myself. You have to learn new truths. I’ve had to ask myself, ‘what am I totally comfortable with?’”

Hansen sustained an injury in 2018 while playing rugby with the North Idaho Osprey Men’s Rugby team. In what he calls a “freak accident,” Hansen’s leg was dislocated so severely during a tackle it tore the nerve and veins behind his knee, causing him to lose function in his left foot. Hansen lost over half the blood in his body from compartment syndrome and received a blood transfusion. In the hospital, Hansen was visited by friends, family and his rugby teammates. His best piece of advice if you find yourself bedridden? Tell people to bring you sandwiches.

“I got to try tons of delicious sandwiches,” Hansen laughs. “The best was a lamb sandwich that Alan Coe brought me.”

Over time, a subsequent pressure sore on the sole of his foot as well as a grievous infection in his knee led Hansen, his wife Lauren Wimmer and their families to make the decision for amputation.

“Lauren has been my rock throughout this. She’s been a big advocate for me. We spent my daughter’s first birthday in the hospital. You can believe that was really hard for her. She expects more of me, she pushes me and challenges me constantly because she wants what’s best for me. She’s my toughest critic because she believes in me,” Hansen said.

“This will give Jacob the best opportunity to have a ‘normal life’ again,” Wimmer wrote in a crowdfunding campaign she initiated in June 2019. In just shy of three months, they had successfully raised $12,334 from 134 donors. Both Wimmer and Hansen say the financial burden on their family was substantial but made much less cumbersome with help and generosity from their community.

In order to get him back on his feet, Hansen had to do three sessions a week of physical therapy, but insurance only covered 10 sessions a year. He says he wants people to know the amputation has been an improvement, not something that holds him back.

“I never got around to thanking everyone who donated. That made all the difference in the world. Without that, we would’ve had to file bankruptcy and potentially move back in with a family member. I don’t know what we would’ve done,” Hansen said. “Look, it worked! No regrets. I’m really happy with who I am and where I’m at.”

As the ferry approaches, Hansen stands to retreat to his vehicle. A person who had been seated adjacent stops him.

“I couldn’t help but hear your story. I’m a retired rugby player,” they say, gesturing toward their t-shirt to prove it. “How you’ve handled yourself and your attitude about everything…it’s really inspiring.”