A Farewell Adventure: Saying Goodbye to Joe’s Left Foot
If you haven’t heard of Joe Pleban by now, prepare to be inspired. Not many people are like Joe: Adventurous, incredibly friendly, and open to accepting adversity and physical health issues with humor, no matter how scary. Even if that means literally having to cut off a left foot! I first heard of Joe’s story through Facebook, where his “The Last Adventures of Joe’s Left Foot” was becoming a viral hit. The page highlights a bucket list of what Joe was planning to do with his left foot prior to a scheduled amputation, which would allow Joe to continue his active lifestyle and love of sports without the incredible nagging pain from a prior injury.
As soon as I learned about Joe’s incredible outlook on life, using humor & humility to overcome an injury that would certainly be life-altering, I reached out asking if he would be willing to do an interview for Spread Stoke. Needless to say, Joe was pretty stoked on the site and was happy to share his story …
SS: When I came across your story, I was truly inspired and we would love to share it with our Spread Stoke community. First off, tell us a little about yourself? Where did you grow up and how did you fall in love with action sports?
Joe: I was born in San Francisco and lived there for a couple years before moving to Maryland. I lived on a cul-de-sac growing up with a couple other kids. I got my love for action sports because of the show Rocket Power. I would watch it with other kids, then we would go on the street and try to jump off any ramps we could make/find. I went through so many of those plastic ramps as a kid. As I grew up, I would try any action sport that was put in front of me at least once.
SS: Can you tell us how it all started with your foot? What was it like dealing with a foot that didn’t cooperate with your life?
Joe: This whole process started when I had a bad wake boarding fall in 2008. It was actually the day after my high school graduation! I hit a double up waaayyy too hard, and I ended up snapping my ankle! The ankle never healed right, and they went into surgery to try to clean out scar tissue. That is when they found the disease PVNS (pigmented villanodular synovitis), which causes benign tumors that eat away at the cartilage. I had 3 surgeries in 3 years, along with a round of radiation treatment. This past March, we found that the tumors had returned, and that information helped me to make the decision to amputate. Growing up with a crappy ankle was not fun. The past 6 years were the worst. I would watch the sports I loved being taken away one by one because of ankle pain. However, I cannot WAIT to get back into all the sports that I love.
SS: When you made the decision to amputate your left foot, what kind of emotions did you face?
Joe: When I made the decision to amputate, there were a bunch of emotions going on. At first, I was a bit freaked out because of the weight and life-altering nature of the surgery. After that, I got to the point where I was just excited for the future. I wanted to get past the surgery so I could get back to playing sports. I would watch videos of amputees doing all the sports I used to play, and that would make me feel awesome about what was coming. Right before the surgery, I was very nervous. However, I felt fine after I woke up. Since then I have been doing great emotionally.
SS: Alright, we want to hear about your bucket list and what was checked off! How long before your amputation did you take time off to go adventure? Any specific experiences you would like to share?
Joe: Ah yes, the bucket list. Well I had a month before the surgery. I made the decision to amputate in May, but the surgery was not until June. So my girlfriend (Johnna Hetrick) and I made a Google doc with all the things we wanted to do before the surgery. We went kayaking, go-karting, sky diving, a music festival, a trip to the Domincan Republic where we went scuba diving and parasailing, paintballing, shooting AK-47s… it was a very packed month! Every weekend had an activity planned. I only took off of work for the Dominican trip and the music festival. The rest of the activities were on weekends. Sky diving was the most fun by far. It was actually a birthday git to my girlfriend. I surprised her by saying we were going to a vineyard for wine tasting, then ended up at an airport to jump out of a plane.
SS: Can you tell us who Tony Meehan is and how has he helped you with coping?
Joe: Tony Meehan is my mentor for the amputation. He is a below the knee amputee who had his surgery done last June. He is young and active, and has been instrumental to showing me that everything will be better with a prosthetic. I met with him before I made the decision, and he was even there right before I went into surgery. Tony and I have already made plans to go snowboarding together next March!
SS: Post surgery? What was it like waking up with no leg?
Joe: Waking up with no leg was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I woke up, looked down, and thought “OK. I have no leg. This is OK.”
SS: What are you looking forward to in having a new prosthetic foot? Any new sports you want to give a try?
Joe: The thing I look forward to with a prosthetic? Running, running, running, running, aaannndd…. running. I cannot wait to break out in a wide open sprint whenever I want to. It may sound weird, but I love to sprint. As far as new sports, I would like to get into wake surfing. I tried it a couple times on friend’s boats and loved it. I am saving up for a wakesurfer now!
SS: After reading your story, I felt a strong sense of your humility. What does humility mean to you and why do you think it is so important to have in life?
Joe: The best thing I have ever heard about humility is “Humility is not about putting yourself down, it is about raising others up.” I know that I have been strong through this entire process, but it is because I have so much support from my girlfriend, family, and friends. It is easy to seem strong when you have so many to help lift the burden.
SS: We couldn’t agree more! Speaking of those who have helped support your mission, are there any shout outs you’d like to give? Who has helped you through this process and inspired you to keep such a positive attitude.
Joe: Shout outs: My girlfriend, Johnna Hetrick, for sticking with me through this whole process. She even slept in a weird, uncomfy recliner in my hospital room every night! My parents, Bob and Lisa Pleban, for being so helpful and supportive. They are the best parents. Sorry every other mom and dad, it is the truth.
So now that Joe is taking a step forward towards a pain-free future, we wish him nothing but an awesome and easy road to recovery! Sometimes, the hardest things to do often lead us towards the best and most rewarding experiences in life. Joe has shown us that closing one door only opens up better ones and that when dealing with a bad situation, a positive outlook and lots humor goes a long way! We’re positive that Joe’s upcoming adventures will be even more amazing without the nagging pain of his left foot. A huge shout-out to Joe for taking time out of his week to speak with me and for sharing his story. Thanks Joe! Hope to see you & your mentor Tony on the hills in Utah shredding through some pow this winter!
*All photo’s courtesy of Joe Pleban.