Ted Simpson was sitting down when I met him. It wasn't until we were through a third of our interview that he mentioned, casually, that he had lost both his legs to diabetes. He said it like I might say that I misplaced my toothbrush. Inconvenient, but hey, life goes on.
Simpson had an active life growing up. He was one of 13 kids living on a farm in Avon, N.Y. He helped his father with daily chores throughout his childhood. In high school, Simpson played football and baseball and ran track. Growing up, Simpson's body was his livelihood. He worked in drywall, operated a crane and helped to build Route 390. For much of his professional career, Simpson also coached a girls' softball team. Obviously, physical prowess and athleticism were integral to his life. Simpson retired from a labor position within the village of Avon after his first amputation, in 2001.
Health problems began assaulting Simpson's body in 1999 at a Shriners conference in Miami. "Our contingent and I got to about the third day there – I dropped over with a heart attack," he said. His diabetes worsened, cutting off blood flow to his foot. Though Simpson maintained an upbeat attitude, his condition became so bad that doctors had to remove everything below the knee.
The amputation proved to be too much for his weakened heart, and Simpson was overtaken by cardiac arrest. "I thought that was the one," he said. "Here I am, still going!" Even then, Simpson wasn't out of the woods. He was admitted to the hospital once again last February, where he stayed until September. During the spring, his other leg was amputated.
It is remarkable how peaceful Simpson is in spite of his tumultuous past. He says he went through hell, but enjoys Morgan Estates Assisted Living Facility, where he now resides. The residents and staff, he said, are lively and amiable. He exercises in the morning and has recently developed an affinity for nickel bingo.
"The way I look at it now," he said, "with my life, which is good – which is good, I have nothing but time now."
The battle to stay positive, it seems, is largely mental. "There were two things I could have done – I could have put my head in the sand and said, ‘To hell with it, I'm all done,'" Simpson said. "Or you can see what you gotta do, and do it and keep moving."
Simpson hopes he will be moving without the aid of a wheelchair soon. His next goal, he said, is to get another prosthetic limb – his fitting is Dec. 21 – and to learn to use a walker. One of the things Simpson misses most is his involvement with community groups such as the Lions Club, the Shriners and the Masons. He yearns for "something easy I could do to help them out … just to be part of it," he said.
The hardest things to overcome, he said, are basic things that have become dramatically more complex since the loss of his legs. "You have to have a mindset – look at your surroundings and what you can do to make things easier for yourself," he said. "And that's just what I did."
Ted Simpson's attitude is one of gratitude and courage. And yet, why not? "You can make do with whatever you got," he said. "The only handicap I got is that my legs are gone."