Loss, hardship and health challenges are the lot of most people at some time in their lives. But for Canyon Lake resident Cheryl Hardesty, they have been a constant presence since her youngest son, Kevin, was diagnosed with bone cancer (osteosarcoma) at the age of 11; Cheryl’s leg was crushed in an accident in May 2001, then amputated above the knee in August 2008; she buried her oldest son, Robby, on Christmas Eve 2008; and her husband, Bill, died suddenly this past April.
When Cheryl, a mother of six, first moved to Canyon Lake 15 years ago, she brought her toolbox and knowledge of computers that allowed her to help many residents with their computer and network issues. She longs to be self-sufficient once again, but says, “I have come from being needed by my community to being needy for my community.”
Cheryl isn’t seeking sympathy, but she is hoping for the kind of compassion that prompts goodhearted people to reach into their wallets for a cause – hers being the need of a new prosthetic knee due to the amputation of her leg.
In May 2001, Cheryl’s leg was impacted by a car so hard that her foot remained connected to her knee by a shred of skin – the bones and muscle in between were completely gone. She had to be transported by helicopter to the hospital and, by the time she reached it, she had lost nine pints of blood. There was discussion about removing her lower leg, but surgeons decided to give reconstruction a try. After attending symposiums and discussing her case with other surgeons over several weeks, it was decided her leg would be put into a special cast. She eventually was sent home with a wheelchair, returning regularly for skin grafts.
In the meantime, her husband got a new job with Northrop Grumman in Rancho Bernardo and the family moved from Lancaster to Canyon Lake. While Kevin was on the mend from surgery on a cancerous tumor and getting involved in Temescal Canyon High School water polo, Cheryl continued to undergo reconstructive surgery every six months.
Finally, her surgeons obtained a tibia from a cadaver bank and were ready to build a new leg in December 2004. Kevin, ever mindful of his mother’s companionship during the year he was in the hospital, promised he would stay by her side during the 12-hour surgery – until his own doctors discovered cancer cells near vital organs in his chest.
Fortunately for both, their surgeries were successful. By March 2005, Cheryl went in to have the new cast removed from her leg. Two months later she experienced heart failure due to damages from the years of medication and surgery and was placed on a transplant list.
During the remainder of 2005, new medication strengthened her heart though she continued to tire easily. She also continued working in her home-based computer consultant business.
The last time readers heard from Cheryl in August 2006, she had managed to water ski on her own two legs behind a boat driven by Kevin. However, two years later, in August 2008, the pain in her leg was so great after a botched surgery, it had to be amputated above the knee.
After the amputation, she became what is known as an “Above Knee Amputee” (AKA) versus a “Below Knee Amputee” (BK).
The difference is major, she says, since someone whose leg has been amputated below the knee can still manage to run races or “dance with the stars.” Some above-knee amputees say it would be better to lose two feet rather than one knee because of the freedom and possibilities one has with their knees.
However, what’s done is done. The reason Cheryl is reaching out to her neighbors now is because of the “small fortune” an artificial knee costs, saying, “I have needed a new knee for some time now and my insurance company will only cover $25,000 of the $55,000 my knee will cost.” Friends and relatives are tapped out in how much they can continue to provide financial support for this beleaguered family.
In recent years Cheryl has endured the suicide of her older son after he returned from serving in Iraq. Earlier this year she got a call that Kevin, attending a university out of state, was in intensive care with pneumonia in both lungs. Although he survived and Bill was able to bring him home, Cheryl says, “Kevin is still struggling and disabled and still poses a medical challenge.”
Then, one morning in April, Bill was gone. Cheryl attributes his passing to extreme stress.
She says, “Now widowed, disabled, with a disabled son and no income, I still need to walk. I borrowed $55,000 for the knee the insurance company finally approved, and I am waiting for them to reimburse me for $25,000 of the borrowed cost . . . Phantom limb pain comes and goes in addition to nerve tumors. My leg still has a deep fissure, and it looks like I will need still another surgery. A surgeon at Cedar Sinai has agreed to see me in October. I know more surgery is inevitable . . . and so, on goes the battle.”
It’s never easy to ask for money, but Cheryl has noticed others in Canyon Lake who have allowed their stories to be told in The Friday Flyer. Anyone who would like to bless Cheryl with a donation may do so by entering her name, “Cheryl Hardesty,” at www.gofundme.com.