In August of 1975, 12 year old Charles Edward Gilliam, Jr. heard the roar of the fans when his All Star Team known as Tennessee Lightning won the Little League Baseball tournament championship in Mount Pleasant, Tennessee.
As Charles accepted the Most Valuable Player award for the 1975 tournament he realized all the days and hours of practicing were going to pay off in a few years. He would have a career as a professional athlete.
During the tournament, Charles experienced swelling and severe pain in the calf of his right leg each night. Both he and his parents assumed it was due to the increased activity level with practice and games nightly. Unfortunately, the pain continued after the tournament was completed.
Charles’s Father took him to see an orthopedic specialist the week after he won Most Valuable Player. Fear and misbelief took over when a diagnosis of cancer was given to the 7th grade boy.
A tumor was found in his right calf. Immediately, a second opinion was sought after at Vanderbilt. The devastating news was an above the knee amputation was necessary or Charles could lose his life.
Surgery forced Charles to stay hospitalized for six to eight weeks. Aggressive chemotherapy for one year consumed the time of Charles and his family. He stayed in bed with extreme nausea and vomiting, experienced complete hair loss and missed numerous school days.
Charles remembers being in shock and says he could not think of himself because he witnessed the pain his family and friends were going through due to his limb loss. He needed to stay strong especially for his Mom and Dad. Charles remembers holding them in his arms as they cried. “It hurt my parents more than it hurt me” says Charles.
Crutches and a wheelchair helped Charles to get around until he could receive his prosthetic leg.
Six months after surgery he was referred to an Orthotic and Prosthetic facility in Nashville.
Charles had no idea of the work involved in rehabilitation following a fitting of a prosthetic leg.
He went through months of therapy to learn how to ambulate.
Charles recalls being in school one day after therapy and suddenly being hit with the reality that his future plans to be a professional athlete would never come to fruition. The tears rolled down his face as he gazed out the window at the baseball field. He was afraid of the unknown and sadness filled his heart and mind. The young teen finally grieved for himself and his personal loss.
An Uncle gave Charles golf clubs one Christmas hoping he would pick up another sport.
Charles mastered the game and joined the high school golf team.
Through the school years, Charles restructured his plans and focused on learning to live as an amputee. This involved safe walking, riding a bike, driving and basic daily activities. He excelled with his prosthetic leg and began playing basketball on the playground again with friends.
In 1981, Charles graduated with a high school diploma and headed to the University of Martin for a Mass Communications degree. He believed this would be an avenue to stay involved with sports as a career. After a few years, he transferred to Tennessee State University so he would be back where his family lived.
Abscesses developed on Charles’s stump due to the extensive walking on campus. The problems led to more surgery and he was not able to complete the necessary classes for his Mass Communications degree. He went to work as the head parking lot attendant for the Metro Court House in Nashville.
Goodwill gave Charles job training through vocational rehabilitation. The program offered him knowledge and job skills so he could support himself and be independent. Charles found himself sitting with emotionally challenged individuals as a Respite Counselor. He monitored the clients for safety and documented their actions. They had homicidal and suicidal tendencies.
Around 2002, Charles needed a change and relocated to West Tennessee. He had to find a new Prosthetist for his prosthetic leg care. Ramesh Dubey, Director of Prosthetics for Human Technology began treating him and they have been good friends ever since.
Charles gives his time with Human Technology, Inc. Prosthetics and Orthotics as an Amputee Advocate. He has first-hand experience with limb loss. Having successfully adjusted to wearing a prosthetic leg for 39 years he is available to give support and encouragement to new or old amputees and become their valuable friend.
Charles loves to work with others. When asked his favorite thing as an Amputee Advocate he replied “Seeing the joy on people’s face when they learn how to function and the hope in their eyes when I tell them their capabilities as an amputee.”