The Unbreakable Olga Olmos
Sadly, our dear friend Olga Olmos passed away in January 2018. Following is a story we wrote about Olga earlier in 2017. We miss her and send our prayers to her husband, Henry, and her family.
Olga is a 48-year old, bilateral below-knee amputee from Floresville, Texas. She lost her legs and parts of fingers due to complications from diabetes. She is one of 18 children, born and raised on the west side of San Antonio. Olga and I recently sat down to lunch joined by her neighbor, caregiver and “angel,” Ruby.
SAAF: Please tell us a little about your journey so far.
Olga: My left leg was amputated in October 2015 and then the right leg was in February 2016. This was due to my poor circulation which came from years of diabetes. It all happened so fast that I didn't have time to feel sorry for myself. I was getting ready to walk on my left prosthesis when the toes on my right started to show gangrene so instead of cutting toe by toe we opted for the next step which was BKA.
SAAF: Have you had any issues with phantom pain?
Olga: A lot of phantom pain comes in my hand. Sometimes I feel like my finger is there, but once I start massaging the base of it, it goes away.
SAAF: What has surprised you about being an amputee?
Olga: People don’t see me in the wheelchair. They talk to Ruby, but not to me. It’s like I’m invisible.
SAAF: You mentioned you like to help people.
Olga: I really want to help other people. Whether I’m in my wheelchair, and I can’t help them, I’ll get them some help. Or if I’m in a gurney and I’m just holding the hand of a man [next to me who’s] having a panic attack. I did that one time and the doctor said “Olga, thank you, you’re so special.” But I said, no, anyone would have done that.
When I was at the rehab center at Baptist downtown, I saw many people just like me but some were having a hard time dealing with it. I always showed up with a smile and greeted everyone in the gym. I was asked by one of the techs if I could speak to another patient which was above the knee bi-lateral, to try to raise her spirit. I did, and I made a connection with her and made a difference. Oh my, this was a great feeling. I was determined to become a mentor at that moment.
We talked about wearing different kinds of shoes. Olga gave away many pairs of shoes upon amputation, including boots. But we discussed how boots with a zipper could work (and a good shoe horn). Olga wants to wear something besides her sneakers.
Ruby: I said, find some little flats so when you dress up, you’re not in tennis shoes.
Many prosthetic feet can accommodate other styles of shoes (including dressy flats) besides tennis shoes.
SAAF: What advice to you have for other amputees?
Olga: Breathe. It’s going to be okay. It’s hard, but it’s going to be okay. There’s always someone there to hold your hand.
Olga has her friend Ruby, as well as her husband Henry, to hold her hand.
Olga: I am married to a wonderful man, Henry, that has been with me through this whole ordeal. Everyone we meet tells me that I am one lucky woman to have a man like mine. I am truly blessed to have met him.
SAAF: How did you meet your husband?
Olga: We met at work when I gave him his first parking ticket. I, of course, voided the ticket. Little did I know that he would be my husband a year later. We don't have children together but he has two sons, a daughter, and two grandchildren. Let's not forget my fur babies at home. We have two Chihuahuas and an Australian Shepard mix.
While we were waiting in line at the cafeteria, a woman in front of us suggested we ask to be moved to the front of the line because Olga was in a wheelchair, but Olga declined.
Olga: I don’t want pity. I’m not going to go up to the front of the line because I don’t have use of my legs. I’m going to wait just like everybody else.
I want to do things on my own. I want to climb those steps. [If people say] no, you can’t do it. I say, “yes, I can. Watch me.”
Ruby: The last time I said, “you can’t do it…”
Olga: “Yes, Ruby, it’s easy!”
Ruby: She’s so determined. She’ll do it.
If there’s one word that describes Olga, it’s determination, and SAAF is so happy to watch Olga accomplish everything she’s determined to do!