Regi Ueke's holiday season started with what he thought was the flu, but ended with an amputation.
About five years ago, Ueke, a Frazee native, learned that he had Type 2 diabetes. He adjusted his life and worked with the new diagnosis. But in the last eight months, he developed an ulcer on his right ankle related to the diabetes.
Over Thanksgiving weekend, the ulcer started draining and became infected, making Ueke feel sick and bringing him to the doctor.
"I went in because I thought I had the flu," Ueke said. "My doctor ... looked at it (the ulcer) and said that he had to do surgery right away."
The doctor hoped to clean out the draining ulcer and rebuild Ueke's ankle. But when he went in for surgery, the doctor found out that it wasn't just the ulcer causing issues anymore: Ueke's infection had turned septic and had already spread through his blood and bones.
Ueke was rushed to Fargo, N.D., for an amputation surgery, and was immediately put on heavy antibiotics.
"The antibiotics made my kidneys shut down," Ueke said. "I was touch and go there for a while. I don't remember a lot of it, I'm just going by what my wife told me."
Doctors were able to get Ueke's kidneys and sepsis under control enough to have the surgery to amputate his right leg from just under his knee cap. By amputating that section, the doctors were able to stop the infection from spreading to the rest of his body.
A common diabetic problem
According to APMA.org, a foot ulcer is an open sore or wound. Although a foot ulcer was the cause for Ueke's amputation, the real culprit was his diabetes, he said. APMA.org finds that foot ulcers occur in about 15% of people with diabetes, and since Ueke's right ankle had broken many years ago, he had higher odds to end up with an ulcer there.
After getting a foot ulcer, 14-24% of patients with diabetes will have an amputation, according to APMA.org. Of diabetes-related amputations, 85% of them start with a foot ulceration.
Diabetes is the leading cause of nontraumatic lower extremity amputations in the United States, APMA.org found.
Adapting and recovering
After 12 days in the hospital, two surgeries, multiple dialysis treatments and more, Ueke was released from the hospital. He came home on Tuesday, Dec. 10 -- his 51st birthday.
"I went through a real tough time" after the amputation, Ueke said. "But ... I can't say thank you enough to my wife. She's done so much and gave up so much just to help me. When I was depressed from (the amputation) ... she was right by my side and helped me through all that."
Members of the Frazee Fire Department were quick to welcome Ueke and his family back home. Ueke worked at the department for 24 years until he retired in 2016.
"He loved the fire department," said Joe Nelson, Frazee Fire Chief. Nelson has known Ueke for about 10 years, with Ueke serving as his fire chief for part of that time. "Just being able to help somebody else was his favorite thing."
To help Ueke and his family, members of the department donated money in a boot that was passed around, Nelson said. They gathered $600, giving it to Ueke when they saw him. Nelson, his Assistant Chief Richard Gerving and Deputy Chief Jimmy Krejce, also pooled together their money to buy Brayden, Ueke's 8-year-old son, a Nintendo Switch as a Christmas gift.
"It kind of made me feel good when they did that," Ueke said. "I can't say thank you enough to them guys."
The community as a whole reached out to help Ueke and his family as well. A GoFundMe was created, raising $3,365 of the $4,000 goal to help with utilities and expenses.
"It's just really good to see the support that's behind Regi," Nelson said about the donations. "He spent 24 years of his life helping others and it's good to see others return the favor."
Rhonda, Ueke's wife, and Brayden continue to work behind the scenes with Ueke. They help with his appointments, re-learning how to drive -- using only his left leg -- using a wheelchair to get around and just adjusting to life without his right leg. Ueke said that he doesn't "think I'd be here without them."
Donate online at https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-regi-and-his-family.