Stan Sutherland works in the hardscrabble world of construction, commuting daily from his home near Lansing to an excavation company in Detroit. It’s hard, gritty, honest work – the sort that attracts stout and stalwart men.
But that hasn’t stopped Stan from shedding a tear or two of unmitigated joy over the last few weeks – ever since he narrowly avoided losing his lower right leg to amputation.
Stan was raised from the third grade on in Webberville, an Ingham County village of about 1,300 located some 20 miles southeast of Lansing.
A divorced father of three, he lives alone but enjoys the steady company of his children and four grandchildren. In his spare time, he spends long hours in a shop where he fabricates articles with his hands. “I like to build things,” he says with a smile.
Some 15 years ago, when he was in his early 40s, he contracted Buerger’s disease, which causes small and medium-sized blood vessels in the arms or legs to become inflamed and blocked. In Stan’s case, it began with tingling and then pain in his fingertips.
He consulted doctors from far and wide in an effort to secure relief for what is an incurable disease. Less than two years ago, the affliction began to affect his feet.
He sought treatment from a rheumatologist and later a vascular surgical team at a hospital in southeastern Michigan, beginning in August 2019. His symptoms became worse, and the pain nearly unbearable.
This past April 24 – a Friday — he was admitted, and when treatment regimens failed, was told that he’d have to succumb the following Tuesday to the amputation of his right leg at the knee.
“I had nobody with me, and I was freaking out,” Stan recalls. “I was really run down; I lost like 10 pounds in the four days there. And I was in a bad way, on both Oxycotin and Tylenol, which did nothing for the pain.”
The day before the scheduled surgery, he asked if he might delay the procedure a week, and discharged himself. His daughter Jessica insisted he get another opinion, and in remembering she’d seen a highway billboard advertising Dr. Mustapha as an option to amputation, made the call on behalf of her dad
It changed his life.
Stan arranged to have his records sent to Dr. Mustapha, then called to make an appointment. To his astonishment, Dr. Mustapha conveyed that if Stan could be there the next day – a Friday – he’d clear his afternoon obligations and treat Stan.
“Doctor Mustapha walked in and said, ‘We can fix this,’” Stan remembers. “He worked on me until 8 or 9 at night.”
“I refuse to give up on any patient’s leg until I know I’ve done all I can,” said Dr. Mustapha. In Stan’s case, this meant a four-hour procedure to meticulously and methodically establish adequate blood flow to save his leg.
Stan draws a breath: “I haven’t had any pain since. None. I walked out of there feeling like a million bucks. I can’t even believe…” and his words make way for the tears.
“I’ve been crying every day since,” he says. “I had to deal with the news that my leg was coming off. And then, I’m in and out of Dr. Mustapha’s office the same day, and just like that, I’m good again.”
Offers daughter Jessica: “If I hadn’t seen that billboard, my dad would probably be without a leg right now.”
Stan’s only concern is that he can’t announce to the whole world the transformation that might await others fortunate enough to consult with Dr. Mustapha. “How did they not know about him at (the hospital where he was set to lose his leg),” he wonders. “I thought the medical world would do a better job of sharing information.”
Stan says he can’t stop thinking this: “What if I hadn’t exhausted all my options?’”