While facing the impending amputation of his lower left leg, Joe Pleban decided to celebrate rather than mourn his final few weeks with his limbs intact.
After setting the date for the amputation, Pleban and his girlfriend spent the next few weeks checking off items from Pleban’s leg “bucket list” such as going skydiving, scuba diving and even getting a “non-permanent, permanent tattoo.”
“Since we packed so many things [in during those weeks] I didn’t really thing about it that much,” Pleban told ABC News. “It was hard to focus on the amputation.”
The tattoo showed a dotted line with the instructions “Please cut here.”
The 23 year old had decided on amputation after suffering for years from a rare ankle disease that resulted in benign tumors growing in his ankle. Surgery and radiation had temporarily stopped the tumors but had given him arthritis, which made it difficult to walk without crutches or a cane. Eventually the tumors also started to return, causing more pain for Pleban.
Doctors told Pleban they could fuse his ankle, but he’d be left with a permanent limp and unable to run or enjoy the sports he grew up playing.
“We knew it was the logical decision,” Pleban said of his choice to have an amputation. “I’d be way more active on a prosthetic. On paper amputation makes way more sense. Emotionally it took a little longer to come around.”
Eventually Pleban said a snowboarding trip helped him decide. It was the last sport Pleban had been able to enjoy without the same pain he experienced in his day to day movements.
After a day on the slopes, Pleban was in so much pain he didn’t think he could go back on the mountain.
“I was like, ‘Not this, don’t take this away from me too,’” recalled Pleban. “That’s one of the big moments [thinking] ‘I may need to amputate it.’”
After talking to his doctors multiple times, Pleban and his medical team decided he could have a more active and pain-free life without his lower left leg and foot. The medical team set his surgical date in March and over the next few weeks, Pleban and his sister documented the time on a Facebook page titled “The Last Adventures of Joe’s Left Foot.”
The pair showed Pleban getting a tattoo, taking his girlfriend skydiving and going to his favorite music festivals.
“There were a couple times where I was like ‘Man am I really doing this?’” Pleban recalled of his decision to amputate. “But then I’d try to walk a block or something, where I need a cane or walking boot. [I’d think] This is the right decision, I can’t live like this anymore.”
Pleban also came to rely on social media in other ways too, even finding an amputation “mentor” on the Reddit website, who had gone through a similar elective amputation. The morning of Pleban's surgery, his mentor helped to calmed him down.
Now two weeks after the surgery, Pleban said he feels confident in his choice although he’s not up and running just yet.
“I had one big moment where I realized all the emotion, but since then I’ve been very confident in my choice,” said Pleban. “[I’m] just looking forward to when I get the [prosthetic] leg.”