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Determination, acceptance are the keys to recovery

John Nicolazzi, 75, walks, dances and practices his golf swing on a prosthetic leg. "You need to accept your handicap and learn to live with it,'' Nicolazzi says.

By CAROLYN HOPKINS

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 26, 2001


PORT RICHEY -- John Nicolazzi, 75, is a very determined man.

After surgery a little more than a year ago to have his left foot and a portion of his left leg removed, he was determined to walk out of rehabilitation four weeks later. And he did.

"You have to accept what you have and deal with it," Nicolazzi said, "There is no other way."

Nicolazzi is a sun lover and a diabetic. While listening to his radio on Hudson Beach, he fell asleep and got a sunburn on the tops of his feet.

At first, his condition necessitated the removal of a toe on his left foot. An infection set in and spread, and two months later he was given the choices of removing his left foot in hopes of stopping the infection or having more surgery -- an even more drastic procedure in which his left foot and part of his left leg below the knee would be removed. He had a day to think it over.

Nicolazzi decided on the second option. He said he didn't want to have his limb taken off bit by bit.

"I realized I would have to accept a new way of life," he said, "but I was determined not to let it get me down. Nobody wants to lose a part of their body, but this was something I had to accept and deal with." Because of his determination, Nicolazzi was walking without help the second day after receiving his new leg.

He made it a point, and still does, of putting on his leg first thing in the morning and not removing it until bedtime.

As a member of St. Michael's parish, the Knights of Columbus Council 10377, in which he is travel director, and as president of the Knights of Columbus Columbian 10377, Nicolazzi has been asked many questions about his rehabilitation.

For this reason and his desire to help others who have lost limbs, Nicolazzi has founded a support group that he calls VIP Determination. It meets from 2 to 4 p.m. the last Wednesday of the month at St. Michael's Catholic Church in Hudson. The group is in its infancy, starting with four members and now up to about a dozen who meet to socialize, talk about their problems and try to find answers.

Members of the group are men and women of all ages who are in various stages of recovery from amputations. Nicolazzi encourages them to get out and do things, not to stay at home feeling depressed. Following this philosophy, he recently returned from a two-week Mediterranean cruise that involved a lot of on-shore walking trips. Just before leaving, he was fitted with a new prosthesis that is spring-loaded at the ankle and makes walking a little easier.

Nicolazzi counts his blessings and says losing a left leg is better than losing a right because that would make driving a car much more difficult.

"When you lose a limb, you have to start a new life," he emphasized. "You need to accept your handicap and learn to live with it and overcome it. There is no time for self-pity."

Twice widowed, Nicolazzi does his own housework, usually from a wheelchair because it makes some things easier. Many housekeeping skills are new to him, but he does have a reputation for being an excellent Italian cook. A retired engineer, originally from Long Island, N.Y., he says he keeps active and still enjoys Florida's sunshine, although now he doesn't wear shorts and always wears a hat at the beach. He was an avid golfer and practices at a range once a week. Balance and pivoting still are difficult, and he hasn't yet played a full game. He also enjoys music and dancing, a favorite pastime.

Support group information

Group: VIP Determination

When: 2 to 4 p.m. the last Wednesday of the month

Where: St. Michael's Catholic Church in Hudson.

Information: Call John Nicolazzi at (727)-862-0906.

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