An extreme sportsman has made a heartwarming photo diary charting his agonising decision to have his left foot amputated.
Joseph Pleban, 23 of Fredericksburg, USA, was told that he had a rare bone and joint disease which caused recurring benign tumours in his ankle. He decided to have his left foot removed by surgeons after realising it would allow him to continue to pursue extreme sports.
As he was growing up Mr Pleban found that he received injuries to his left ankle while snowboarding, wakeboarding and playing rugby. After consulting doctors, Mr Pleban eventually decided the only option was to have the lower section of his left leg amputated.
He created a unique photo as a farewell to his foot after choosing to replace his damaged ankle with a blade-style prosthetic.
He said: “Over six years I had to give up all of the sports I loved. Although taking my ankle away was a big sacrifice, the change to regain the ability to play those sports again meant it it was a no-brainer.
“It took me a little while to get past the emotional hurdles. As a way to come to terms with what was happening I decided to capture the journey in pictures.”
The photo series follows Mr Pleban from the moment he chose to have his ankle amputated, through the surgery itself, up to the mirror therapy which he is currently undertaking to adjust to life as an amputee.
Mr Pleban broke his ankle while wakeboarding the day after he graduated from college in 2012. Doctors operated on the ankle and found that the area was full of small tumours.
It was discovered that he had a rare condition called pigmented villonodular synovitis, which produces malignant non-cancerous tumours which attack cartilage, causing agonising degenerative arthritis.
An operation to remove the tumours was carried out but within six months they had grown back.
In 2010 Mr Pleban underwent a second round of surgery followed by radiation therapy and was told he would no longer be able to pursue sports.
He said: “I was a competition swimmer for 18 years then played rugby through college. Later I picked up American football, soccer and snowboarding.”
“Any sport – you name it, I’d play it. To be told that I wouldn’t be able to play sports was the worse thing I had ever heard.”
In March 2014 he had an MRI which revealed that the nodules had once again returned.
Doctors advised that the only option was to fuse his ankle and have surgeries for the rest of his life.
Despite their advice to undergo the fusion treatment, Mr Pleban decided to go for amputation instead as it would allow him to continue playing sport.
Mr Pleban said: “It came down to either going through surgeries for a good portion of my life or have one surgery to end them all and be as active as I want on a prosthetic.
“My dad was the last one to accept my choice. He was searching everywhere for other options, but I just had to tell him that it was time to let it go. Nothing was going to work except fusion or amputation, and I had decided on amputation.”
Mr Pleban and his girlfriend Johnna Hetrick, 26, decided to create a photo record, beginning three months before he had surgery.
He said: “We drew up a list of things which we wanted to do while I could. It was heartbreaking to lose it, but that wasn’t going to stop me doing things before I lost it.”
Activities included go-karting, paintballing, watersliding and skydiving.
The couple went on vacation to the Caribbean and went scuba diving and parasailing.
In an expression of Mr Pleban’s bravery and sense of humour, he uploaded pictures with electric saws and paintball guns, offering them up as alternative ways to remove his leg.
Just before the operation he asked for a tattoo of a line on his ankle with the words “please cut here”.
Mr Pleban describes the tattoo as the first non-permanent permanent tattoo.
He said: “I sent a picture of my tattoo in an email to the surgeon while he was at a conference in London. He showed the photos around and it became a big hit.
“Right before the surgery, I freaked out a bit. I realised there would be no way to turn back from my decision once I’d had the surgery.
“But as soon as I woke up from the surgery and looked down, I knew I had done the right thing
“I start getting fitted for a new leg as soon as the sutures are out.”
He is already planning Halloween costume ideas with his girlfriend.
He said: “I could be a surfer and she could be a shark – maybe we could add a surfboard with a shark bite out of it.
“I would like to get a leg with a USB port that converts the kinetic energy from me walking into electrical energy to charge my phone.”
Miss Hetrick said: “He is an inspiration to me. Him losing part of his leg wouldn’t change my feelings for him at all.
“I let him make the decision which was right for him and I support him entirely.”