Going Strong
Amputation Doesn’t Keep 84-Year-Old from Returning to Work in Mill

Octogenarian Virginia Guffey is a remarkable woman. She has the spirit and enthusiasm of someone decades younger, and she herself said she feels more like 50 than 84. She is remarkably strong and continues a full-time job at U.S. Steel Corp. where she’s been employed since 1949. And she is remarkably lucky, narrowly missing being killed by a forklift. Although the horrific accident resulted in a surgical amputation below the knee, Virginia made a remarkable recovery and is back to work.

“I have no plans to retire,” she said. “I feel good and I want to get on with my life.”

Virginia wants to resume her former position as an inventory clerk, but until she regains more mobility, she has been reassigned to the Midwest plant in Portage where she is performing clerical duties in the office.

Although she is driving again on a limited basis, U.S. Steel sends a van to take her to work. “I still use the wheelchair to get to the building, but once inside I use the walker. Wheelchairs, they’re not fun,” she said.

Virginia is appreciative of U.S. Steel’s efforts to assist her. The company built ramps to her home, installed a chairlift to her basement, and rebuilt the shower to accommodate seating. “U.S. Steel has treated me very well. They’ve been very good to me,” she said.

Learning to walk again
Although her residual limb is still going through a healing process from the March 2008 amputation, she is looking forward to regaining full mobility. She diligently reports for physical therapy at Methodist Hospitals Southlake Campus Rehab Center, where she works on strength and balance. When asked what exercises she undertakes at rehab, Virginia laughs. “You name it and I’ll do it,” she said. “They are mostly teaching me to walk with a cane now. The (prosthetist) will let me know when I can have my (permanent) artificial leg.”

Ron Pawlowski, CPO, began seeing Virginia when she was referred to Calumet Orthopedic & Prosthetics Co. by U.S. Steel’s medical clinic in Merrillville, where Virginia is an outpatient.

“Virginia really is an amazing woman and can serve as an inspiration to others,” said Ron. “She’s a spirited person and very motivated.”

Ron has fitted Virginia with a non-definitive prosthesis while the residual limb continues to change in size and shape. “She’s doing real well and may get a permanent prosthesis before the end of the year. We’re in no hurry; we want to wait until the soft tissue atrophy is complete,” he said.

In the meantime, Ron sees Virginia every four to six weeks. “We judge her progress. As her weight bearing changes through therapy, we’ll change alignment. And as soft tissue atrophies, we’ll add liners for suspension and a comfortable fit. When it’s time for her permanent prosthesis, we’ll determine the most appropriate components for her situation. She is getting very independent with walking. Right now, I’m thinking the Flex-Foot may be a good choice because it will let her walk farther and longer without getting tired.”

Virginia’s accident happened as she checked inventory at the Gary Works. With only one hour left on her shift, she noticed the forklift coming at her, but the driver didn’t see her. “I was in a safe spot, but I couldn’t get out of his way. It happened so fast. I always had a safe record at U.S. Steel. I had to wait until I was 83 to get injured,” she said. “It’s been proven to me that God is there – eight or nine more inches and the forklift would have run right over me.”

U.S. Steel’s medical team was summoned instantly and tried to make Virginia comfortable until the ambulance arrived. “I was awake the whole time,” she said. Virginia was airlifted to Loyola University Medical Center, in Maywood, Ill. She remained hospitalized for almost a month, and then returned to work less than a month after her release, a feat of strength and resolve for any amputee – and especially so for an 84-year-old.

Always looking for the positive
Virginia truly is a woman who won’t let adversity color her view of life. Even as she was transported to Loyola, she told the medical crew her first helicopter ride was beautiful. “That’s the type of person I am,” she said matter of factly. “I have a positive outlook on life. I’m not one to sit back and feel sorry for myself.”

In typical Virginia fashion, even visual impairment didn’t slow her down. In 1956, she had an ocular muscular hemorrhage and lost eyesight in her left eye. “My doctor says my one eye is as good as some people’s two,” she said.

Virginia’s strength was evident even as a very young woman. She began factory work in her hometown of Seymour, Ind., at age 20 to help support her parents and six siblings. “I had to have a job to help the family,” she said simply. “I’ve had an awful lot of hard jobs.”

The job at National Veneer & Lumber Co. paid 37 cents an hour. An uncle, who worked at U.S. Steel, recommended she could get better wages there at $1.36 per hour, and she began a job in the sorting room in 1949.

“We wore green uniforms with collars and cuffs and sorted tin. There were more than 300 women and about 150 men. I was with them more than my family,” she recalled. “I worked in all parts of the mill and was an inspector for 18 years. I’ve been in the warehouse since 1968. I love it!”

She also maintains an active lifestyle at her home in Merrillville. She enjoys gardening, although she had to let that slide this year, but she intends to make up for lost time next spring. In addition to her job, she manages her grocery shopping, errands, and attending church. She watches television, works puzzles, and reads magazines that tell true stories with upbeat and positive endings. She also enjoys the antics of her 10-year-old poodle, Happy. “He barks at everything,” she said. She also is well traveled, having visited nine European countries, Hawaii three times and various destinations across the U.S.A.

A legend
Virginia was honored in August 2007 during American Steelworkers National Recognition Day at the U.S. Steel Yard in Gary. She was quoted in the Northwest Indiana Times: “I never dreamed I’d be recognized that much. It’s because I’ve been in one plant that long. They say I’m a legend.”

Perhaps now more than ever.



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