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Community helps Galt pastor Tim Stevenson, who had leg amputated

By Christina Cornejo, Lodi News-Sentinel, Calif.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

July 12--Tim Stevenson, senior pastor at Galt'sHorizon Community Church, has lost his right leg from a bit below the knee down. Yet he is in good spirits, joking that he lost his leg to a shark. He didn't.

He recently had surgery to have it amputated, an event that drew an outpouring of care and support from his church and the broader Lodi and Galt communities.

Friends and family rallied around him, providing emotional support and money to make a specialized surgery in Oklahoma possible. A local pilot and his company provided a free flight home to Galt from the Oklahoma hospital.

His friends say it was just their way of helping a man who has made helping others his life's work.

It all started with a motorcycle accident in 2011. Stevenson was on his way to a mission trip, he said, when the cars in front came to an immediate stop. He had nowhere else to go, and he crashed.

There was no blood or visible injury present at the time, but 11 months later he began having pains in his foot. Stevenson noticed that his right foot had begun turning outward more, and occasionally his foot was suction-cupping the floor as he walked.

After speaking with a friend, he believed the arch might have fallen, so Stevenson consulted a doctor.

The problem wasn't a fallen arch, but a fractured talus bone in his foot, likely caused by the motorcycle accident.

"It's the one bone that allows you to do everything," Stevenson said. "It's the hardest bone in your body."

Because the bone does not receive much blood flow, doctors attempted to use a screw to connect it to Stevenson's heel bone, a very soft bone, in the hopes that it would increase blood flow and heal the fracture. Instead, the bone collapsed.

Dealing with his dysfunctional foot was causing Stevenson pain.

"There were options to make my leg an inch shorter, but that would cause arthritic issues down the road, and I'd have to wear those big Skechers shoes," Stevenson said. "After talking to people, I said, 'I don't want to go that route.'"

The next option was amputation.

Having studied architecture in college, Stevenson said, he is really interested in learning how things work and how they are constructed. He did research into amputations and found that there were two primary ways to do it.

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The first method would be to cut the limb off, then constrict the limb to make it smaller for fitting into prosthetics, he said.

But he also came across a method called the Ertl procedure. It was developed in 1920 by Dr. Janos Ertl of Hungary as a way to quickly return amputees to work during wartime. Surgeons create a bone bridge between the two lower leg bones and attach the muscles for stability, Stevenson said.

He wanted to receive this surgery instead of the primary one, which was what his insurance covered, so that he could have a firmer base for the end of his limb.

"We fought Kaiser because we wanted (a specific doctor) to do the surgery. After having conversations with them, Oklahoma worked out as a better deal," Stevenson said. "Eventually, the state turned me down, which meant we had to pay for this ourselves."

His circle of friends and family responded. Church members and friends started a Facebook group called "Friends of Tim" to raise money for the surgery and any other needs he might have during that time.

The goal was $75,000. That was raised in six days to cover the cost of his surgery in full.

As of Friday, the fundraiser had reached $92,000.

Stevenson was able to move up the date of the surgery for his daughter's sake -- she is engaged and will be married in September.

"I want to dance with my daughter. We've talked about the father-daughter dance a lot, and that is going to happen," Stevenson said, his voice heavy with emotion.

Kindness from others didn't stop at donating money for medical bills. When church member David Sherlock heard that Stevenson would be flying out to Oklahoma, he approached owner Joe Clark of Clark Pest Control in Lodi about using one of the company planes to give the pastor a free flight there and back.

Permission was granted with no question.

Stevenson turned down the flight to Oklahoma, but Sherlock got the go-ahead to bring Stevenson's son to Oklahoma on a company jet so he could pick up the pastor the week after his surgery.

Stevenson has a big effect on the people he has helped, Sherlock said, through work at the church and as a chaplain for the Galt police department, and through his fundraising.

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"We wanted to do everything we could to get him safely and comfortably home," Sherlock said. "It's a no-brainer when you hear about him and his story. He's worth giving to."

After the surgery, a commercial flight would have been painful and near impossible for him with the limited space, Stevenson said. He needed to keep his leg in place with tubes, which might not have fit in cramped, commercial airplane seats.

That was two weeks ago, and Stevenson is already back at work and working out again at the gym, noting that he is not one to sit around on a couch.

In a few weeks he will begin physical therapy, and six to eight weeks post-surgery, he plans to be fitted for prosthetics.

Stevenson doesn't feel he deserves much of the help he has received recently, he said.

"It's been very humbling and overwhelming, to say the least," Stevenson said.

He has been on the receiving end of several other mysterious acts of kindness recently, including a new truck that was given to him by a secret donor.

"I'm usually the one raising money for things. This is the first time I've had to be a recipient. It's a lot harder to receive than it is to give," Stevenson said.

Contact reporter Christina Cornejo at [email protected].


(c)2014 the Lodi News-Sentinel (Lodi, Calif.)

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