Samuel Richardson was only a few days from turning 60 years old when his life changed forever.

The longtime Tucson resident was involved in a serious ATV accident while on vacation in Rocky Point with friends to celebrate his milestone birthday in February of 2019.

I am diabetic, Richardson said. By the time I got back to Tucson, this foot was gangrene. They cut me at the ankle.

Richardson spent several days following the accident in a bed at St. Josephs Hospital, shades drawn.

I wanted complete darkness, he said. For two days, I didnt want to live.

But hope was not entirely lost. Inspired by the cross that hung in his room, Richardson told himself that he wasnt going to let his new reality define who he was.

He was fitted with a prosthetic, and was released from the hospital in April. By July, he was up and running.

 You are going to come out of this, he would say.


An athlete, Richardson adapted quickly to the prosthetic provided to him.

I got the best treatment, he said. As best as they could that my insurance would cover.

But he wanted more.

It wasn’t until he met Tim Cook, amputation rehab coordinator with the Tucson VA Medical Center, at an adaptive event, that he realized his 14 years in the Navy was the thing that was going to take him to the next level.

As long as weve had a VA here, weve had a prosthetics department in varying degrees, Cook said.

Richardson qualified for care, so he started the process to receive a new, custom prosthetic, embarking on a journey that would soon change his life.

The Process

Richardson found out quickly that the journey to a new prosthetic would be a lengthy one.

The first step in receiving a prosthetic through the VA is the amputee clinic, said Joshua Clark, lab supervisor with the prosthetics department.

(An) amputee clinic consists of a prosthetist, a physician and a physical therapist, Clark said. What we do is we sit down and interview the veteran.

From there, a cast is measured and fabricated by the prosthetist in the exact fit of the residual limb.

We are always building something specific for each veteran, Clark said.

There is plastering, then shaping.

All the elements that make up the prosthetic are made in-house.

Having it all in-house, being able to do that, really coordinates that care and streamlines that care, Cook said. We all know whats going on, whereas if its out of house, its harder.

After that, techs use a furnace on the plastic and the soothe the socket.

While all this was going on, Richardson prepared.

I exercised, he said. I made my core strong, just anticipating what was coming.

The process to get the prosthetic just right can be delicate.

After they are healed and the incision is healed, they have to bear weight, Carson said. They have to be able to post pressure on that sight.

In the meantime, Richardson had to practice patience.

You sit in a wheelchair for months and every day youre thinking my prosthetic is coming, my prosthetic my heart is beating right now Richardson said.

When he finally received his new prosthetic, Richardson found the whole experience worth the wait.

Amazing, he said. I know sometimes the word is overblown, but when you are dealing with this for the first time, it is amazing.

The Right Fit

While the initial fitting for Richardsons prosthetic went smoothly, the care goes on.

Veterans come in for 6-8 sessions of physical therapy post-fitting to make sure the socket feels right.

Once we get that good fit, then it goes back to the prosthetic department and they make that final socket, Cook said.

On Friday mornings, you can find Richardson cycling at the VA.

I bike ride, he said. I do regular mountain bikes. I do recumbent bikes.

Ive rock climbed with this. Ive rock climbed.

Richardson continues to not let his reality define him, and he is aiming for even more in the future.

He has researched a company that makes computerized ankles.

Thats what Im working toward, he said. But it is baby steps.

In the meantime, he is eternally grateful to the Tucson VA Medical Center and its staff.

Southern Arizona Veterans Administration Healthcare system changed my life, he said. Im so appreciative. Im so thankful.