73-Year-Old Amputee Triumphs, Completes Open Water Swim
Oct 20, 2023
Sutter Health
Bob Duncan and Physical Therapist Adelita Stanton

By Marika Rose, Vitals contributor 

When Bob Duncan shattered his left knee in a motorcycle accident more than 30 years ago, he didn’t know the extent of the challenges he would later face. A marathon runner and open-water swimmer, after the accident Duncan underwent knee surgery and regained use of his leg until a hardware replacement became infected in 2020. After multiple failed attempts to get the infection under control, in May of 2021 it was determined that his leg needed to be amputated above the knee.

A Long Road to Regain Independence

After losing his knee and lower leg, Duncan, who is in his mid-seventies, had a long road to recovery. Initially, he couldn’t live independently and had to reside in a nursing facility. He was unable to walk or exercise. He gained significant weight, lost muscle strength, and became sorely deconditioned. But he was determined not to be a statistic or a victim of his circumstances and he committed himself to doing the hard work necessary to walk again. This began his disciplined journey of physical therapy, training, and education to build strength and mobility, overcome depression, and lose the 70 pounds he had gained so he would be able to live independently and ultimately compete again as an athlete.

After a series of temporary prosthesis, Duncan was approved to receive a state-of-the-art prosthetic leg with a built-in micro-processor that senses the motion of walking and adjusts the amount of resistance in the knee so it doesn’t buckle, even on stairs. This Smart Knee Implant can measure steps, stride, and gait to allow for safer, more natural movement. But no matter how smart his knee now was, Duncan still needed physical therapy to adjust to his new leg prostheses and regain range of motion.

Success Comes From Teamwork

Duncan’s prosthetist referred him to Adelita Stanton, a physical therapist at the outpatient physical therapy and rehabilitation department of Sutter Mills-Peninsula Health Center in San Mateo, south of San Francisco. Stanton has built a reputation and passion for working with amputees over more than twenty years. “When patients who have lost a limb are referred to our clinic, they are only starting the process of recovery. They have much to overcome physically, emotionally, and mentally. It takes grit and determination. As an accomplished athlete, Bob had loads of both!” said Stanton.

Duncan refused to go to therapy anywhere else. “Once or twice a week for over a year I drove over an hour, across the Santa Cruz Mountains to go to physical therapy with Adelita. I owe much of my recovery to her expertise and to us being a team with the same goal,” said Duncan. “She says I deserve the credit, but I couldn’t have done it without her. I give her a 10 out of 10.”

After a trying year and a half of prosthetic adjustments and working faithfully in physical therapy with Stanton and her colleague, physical therapist assistant, Brian Wong, Duncan finally graduated from physical therapy in July of 2023. At that point not only was he living and walking independently, but he was swimming – 2000 yards a week, two-miles a day!

Open Water Swim Marks a Major Milestone 

Septuagenarian Bob Duncan completes Santa Cruz Rough Water open swim coming out of the water after race assisted by two men

Bob completes Santa Cruz Rough Water Swim Competition

On July 29, 2023, Duncan competed in the Santa Cruz Rough Water Swim, a one-mile open water swim in the Pacific Ocean. He finished in 35 minutes, squarely in the middle of the pack of 260 swimmers. “My life hasn’t stopped because I lost my leg,” he shared. “I realize that if I’m going to help myself, I need to help and inspire others with my example.”

For more information about Sutter’s Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation services, click here. 











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