Joe Pleban poses inside the U.S. Training Facility.
He called it ‘The Left Foot Bucket List.’ With a below-knee amputation of his left foot scheduled in just over a month, Joe Pleban and his family created a list of things he had always wanted to do. The list included things like skydiving, top-level go kart racing, scuba diving and even a tattoo.
The list was born with the intent of bringing humor into an otherwise daunting situation.
“I could easily have sat around and really second guessed myself and got in my own head - which, believe me, still happened - but it helped to be having fun checking off all these activities that I had always wanted to do,” Pleban explained.
Pleban was diagnosed with Pigmented Villonodular Synovitis after breaking his ankle at age 18. PVNS had caused him to develop benign tumors in his ankle that slowly ate away at the cartilage in his joint. Despite a handful of attempts to remove the tumors, they continued to grow back and by 22 he had to readjust many aspects of his active lifestyle.
Pleban grew up spending time on the slopes with his family in Vermont, first skiing and eventually snowboarding. He fell in love with the sport and continued to spend more and more time on the snow - even working as a ski tech in Lake Tahoe shortly after graduating college.
He first became unable to continue playing rugby, which he had done throughout college. Next came running, and even walking. When even snowboarding became painful, Pleban began to explore other options.
“When I hit the point of not being able to snowboard anymore, I knew I was going to have to do something pretty drastic to get it back. I was in tears just thinking, ‘This is my last sport, this is my favorite sport, please don’t take this from me.’”
From there, Pleban began to seriously consider the idea of amputation.
“It’s different when you’re making the choice to amputate versus waking up from surgery and suddenly you’re missing a limb. We wanted to make sure we did all the research. I talked to my mentor Tony Meehan a lot, who also had an elective amputation. To see how active he was made me realize there was really something out there for me still.”
After meeting with several surgeons, the amputation was scheduled. And thus, a time frame to complete the bucket list. Pleban admits that one of his favorite things on the list, and the one that often garners him the most attention, was the tattoo.
“I knew that if I got an amputation I was 100% getting a tattoo. It was the only tattoo I could ever get that was permanent....but not permanent. It was going to get cut off anyways,” he laughed.
So unbeknownst to his team of surgeons, Pleban got a dotted line with the words ‘Please Cut Here’ on his left ankle. “I showed up on the day of the surgery at the hospital and the doctors are lifting up the sheet and asking ‘Okay, which foot are we doing? Oh wow - okay.,’ Pleban explained. “We all got a kick out of it. I just wanted to make sure they didn’t do the wrong foot!”