George Woods

After Diabetes Diagnosis and Double Amputation, Learning to Stand Strong Again

By Kirsten Ellis

The trouble started for George Woods with a blister. It ended with both his legs being amputated below the knees.

George, 65, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in the early 2000s. The news was not a surprise after years of his blood sugar being borderline—he shares that during his decades of working in law enforcement, he frequently drank with his coworkers, and many of them eventually developed diabetes as well.

Although foot injuries can be particularly dangerous for individuals living with diabetes, George, who lives in La Mirada, California, says no one addressed the topic with him much at first beyond giving him pamphlets about foot care.

“I never thought it would be me,” he shares. “Yeah, I’d heard about it, I’d seen people with amputations, but not George.”

Over the years, he experienced throbbing, cramping pain in his legs, especially at night—sometimes so severe that it kept him awake.

One day in 2020, he experienced sudden pain in his foot so excruciating that he couldn’t walk. He was diagnosed with peripheral artery disease (PAD), a common complication of diabetes that causes leg pain and reduced circulation to the legs and feet. He had a diabetic ulcer on his right foot that was not healing because blood was not getting to his feet.


George enlisted the help of his daughter, Dominique Woods, MD, and her fiancé, Matthew Newman, in getting a second opinion. They spoke to attorneys and doctors and helped connect George to a leading podiatrist who is known for limb preservation efforts.

The podiatrist and his team proposed a surgery that would use a flap of healthy skin to rebuild George’s damaged foot and heel. However, George’s insurance wouldn’t allow him to go out of network for the procedure.

By the time the surgery was approved by his insurance, the tissue on his foot had died and he was developing gangrene. It was too late to reconstruct his foot, and on his 62nd birthday, George’s right leg was amputated below the knee.

During the surgery on his right leg, a medical professional noticed that the big toe on his left foot was turning black. George believes it may have been due to a cut he sustained after doctors clipped a hangnail from his toe. Because of the circulation issues caused by his PAD, this wound also was unable to heal.

George had just lost one leg, and now doctors were working to try to save the other.

“I went through eight operations during COVID by myself,” he says. “First they took my big toe off. Then they came back and took four toes. Then they came back and took the lower part of my [left] leg, and saved my upper leg.”

He was a double amputee by September of 2020.


The aftermath of George’s surgeries was immensely painful: He compares the pain of recovery to a cement truck on his chest.

Beyond that, he had to learn how to navigate the world in a new way. His first prosthetics didn’t fit correctly and he fell, shattering the fragile sense of safety that had started to grow when he received the prosthetics.

“When I fell, that took the security out of my mind that, ‘Hey, my new legs are perfect, and everything is all right,’” he shares. “I got scared and didn’t have that security.”

But he switched to new prosthetics, got back up, and started walking again.

“When I first started walking, [my family] told me I was doing too much,” George remembers. “When I took my first step downstairs, when I started driving. They were worried about everything, but I had to get back to living the life I was accustomed to living. Even though I’m handicapped, I will not let it stop me.”

For 36 years, George was married to Brenda, his high school sweetheart, with whom he has two children. Even after she ended the marriage, she continued to treat George like family.

“Brenda is the best thing in my life,” George shares. “When I got sick, she went to the doctor with me. When the doctor was talking about having to amputate, she laid on my chest and told me we’d make it through this together. When I couldn’t go to the bathroom, when I couldn’t wash myself, when I needed meals, Brenda took care of me. I love Brenda more than she knows. She’s still the love of my life.”

Serving as a care partner for George created a new type of relationship to navigate, Brenda says.

“I just had to be strong for him, although I broke down a few times,” she says. “I told him we’ll get through it as a family. I didn’t want him to worry about getting to the doctor, getting medicine, or getting food. Between me, our daughter, and his sister, we had him covered.”


George has learned the importance of remaining vigilant about even small changes in his health. He has to clean, moisturize, and rest his stumps after wearing his prosthetics. Friction or rubbing can cause pain, blistering, and abscesses—he recently was recovering from a raw spot that ended up requiring antibiotics and treatment from a wound care nurse. After the wound healed, he planned to return to physical therapy to continue to work on his gait.

He still wakes up at night with leg pain like he used to, but not as badly these days. Phantom limb pain is part of his reality now, too: sometimes it feels like his feet are hurting or itching, even though they’re no longer there. One day he was putting lotion on his thigh and told Brenda, without thinking, that he was lotioning his foot.

His most important piece of advice is to take care of your feet and limbs, including making sure not to pick at wounds with unwashed hands. “All wounds have to heal from the inside out, and it takes time,” George says. “After all I’ve been through, I’ve learned to be patient.”

He transitioned from crutches to a walker, and now uses a walking cane, a wheelchair, and adapted vehicles that allow him to drive using only his hands.

Today, George is a motivational speaker—he spoke at a recent American Limb Preservation Society Diabetic Foot Conference (DFCon)—and a mentor for the Compton Unified School District, speaking to classes and motivating students by sharing his own experiences with them. He loves his grandbabies and laughs easily.

He continues a lifelong hobby of “playing the spoons”—using spoons as a percussion instrument, and sometimes mixing in a pot and skillet as well. He plays at church, clubs, and karaoke events, and has taught his children, niece, and granddaughter to play, too.

George’s commitment to Brenda and their two children and two granddaughters has helped him take better care of his health.

He shares that he has been “dealing with a liver that [endured] 40 years of drinking. I stopped because I want to be here when my grandkids graduate from elementary, junior high, high school, and college. If I’m taking insulin, then why am I pouring sugar in a glass?”

He is managing his diabetes by taking his medications and insulin, watching his diet and blood sugar levels, and regularly seeing his general practitioner.

“It feels good to share my story,” he says, reflecting on some of the hopelessness he has seen in other patients searching for answers. “But I have always had faith in God and Jesus. I don’t let anybody tell me what I can’t do, and I do everything now. I cook, I dance, I do everything. God has my back, so it’s one step at a time.”

George with his grandchildren.