Woman's love of bowling helps her to walk again


October 17, 1994|By Mike Gordon | Mike Gordon,Orange County Register

SILVERADO CANYON, CALIF. — The ka-bloom-boom of bowling balls crashing into pins was the trumpet that announced the return of Jean Farr.

She stood alone at the edge of Lane 40's polished wood surface for the first time in nine months. In her right hand was an 11-pound, maroon bowling ball. In her left hand, an aluminum cane. Something that felt like butterflies circled her stomach.

Behind her, a knot of friends watched, breathing on hold.

They knew the feet in Ms. Farr's white running shoes were made of carbon fiber and polyurethane foam -- that the marriage of flesh and plastic was barely 2 months old -- that the urge to bowl, more than anything, got Ms. Farr back on her feet.

But could she bowl again?

The journey had been difficult for Ms. Farr, 65, of Silverado Canyon, Calif. She was used to being active. And she was a bowling fanatic, an aficionado of the sport for 30 years.

In the summer of 1993, she achieved her greatest moment in bowling when she won the right to represent California in this year's National Seniors Tournament in May in Salt Lake City.

She didn't think an operation last December -- a bypass of an aneurysm on her aorta -- would keep her from the tournament. She didn't count on the side effects.

After surgery, she suffered from "intense vasospasms," said her surgeon, Dr. Ken Deck. It's a rare condition -- maybe 1 in 5,000 people get it. The arteries close to the point where almost no blood flows through them.

On Jan. 26, a surgeon amputated both of her feet at the ankles. Two medical labs analyzed the feet and couldn't explain why they died.

"When the doctors told me they were going to amputate my feet, I didn't cry because I was going to lose my feet," she recalled. "I cried because I wasn't going to get to bowl at the nationals."

But Ms. Farr, whose nurses told her she has a high threshold for pain, bowled at the national tournament from a wheelchair. She finished 15th in her division.

Still, she wanted to stand again. To walk. To bowl like everyone else.

She put her left foot forward, leaned into the cane, and swung the ball slowly so the momentum wouldn't pull her off balance. Forward. Backward. Forward again. The ball made a whomping sound as it hit the lane, then a groaning sound as it rolled toward the pins.

Her rehabilitation at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills, Calif., began soon after she went home in a wheelchair in mid-February.

By July, she got her new feet, which came attached to hollow shins prepared by a prosthesis maker in Costa Mesa, Calif.

She wears them like a pair of cowboy boots. They stay snug with socks -- up to seven pairs -- because her legs swell and shrink during the day.

When she first wore the new feet, she felt as though she were on stilts. Then she would feel like a tottering toddler. She used arm braces to steady herself at first, then a cane a few weeks later.

The pain never left, though.

"At night, they hurt," she said. "And I have phantom pain. The other day, I was on the couch and I felt a terrible pain in my instep. I don't have an instep."

Her best friend, Sharon Smith, realized early how bowling could help Ms. Farr.

Ms. Smith is the assistant general manager of Irvine Lanes, where Ms. Farr did most of her bowling. She bought Ms. Farr a lightweight bowling ball.

"In April, she came here and sat at the end of the lanes," Ms. Smith said. "We made her throw the ball, throw the ball, throw the ball. It was hard to get her to come down here. She was so embarrassed."

But she kept practicing. At home, she would brace herself on furniture and toss a pillow into her couch.

Ka-bloom-boom! Ms. Farr's maroon bowling ball knocked down half its target -- not a bad toss for anyone.

She stood there and smiled. Her friends, including Ms. Smith and her physical therapist, Cathy Sheetz, applauded.

L "It's been sheer determination, sheer guts," Ms. Smith said.

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