Corning resident and Elmira man makes inspirational comeback

As featured in the Star Gazette

- April 21, 2017

Some people would find the loss of a limb devastating — especially if they were already coping with another disability.

But George Klugo has never been one to take life lying down, and the people who are helping him recover from the amputation of his right leg can't stop bragging about his resilience.

Klugo, 79, was born deaf, and was educated at the Rochester School for the Deaf before returning to Elmira as a young man.

He didn't let his disability slow him down, and enjoyed a long career as a tractor trailer operator and later as a deliveryman for Pudgie's Pizza and Paesano's Restaurant.

Last year, Klugo faced another hard reality — doctors told him an infection in his right leg had gotten out of hand, and his leg would have to be amputated.

After remaining fiercely independent most of his life, Klugo found himself at the Corning Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare (formerly Founders Pavilion) last August.

"I was at Robert Packer Hospital. They told me I had to come here for rehab after I had my leg amputated. I was living on my own," said Klugo, a two-time widower who has a grown daughter living in Elmira.

"Sometimes it's hard to accept my leg is gone," Klugo said through an interpreter. "It's OK not having a leg, because I have so many friends and they always helped me. I'm fine because I fight, and I don't feel my age. I feel the same as I always have."

In fact, Klugo is proud of his new prosthetic leg. A big football fan, Klugo had the artificial leg emblazoned with the Green Bay Packers team logo.

George Klugo of Elmira, a big football fan, shows off

George Klugo of Elmira, a big football fan, shows off his new prosthetic leg that sports the Green Bay Packers log. (Photo: Jeff Murray / Staff photo)

The Corning Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare not only provides long-term nursing care for residents, but also helps people such as Klugo who suffer health setbacks get back on their feet.

Amputee recovering and training is among numerous clinical services provided by the 120-bed facility, which has a reputation for its physical, occupational and speech therapy.

Klugo's lack of hearing definitely added a challenge to his amputation recovery, said physical therapist assistant Andy Miller.

Sometimes a sign language interpreter is available to help facilitate communication between Klugo and his therapists, but the staff has also had to learn to work effectively with Klugo when there was no interpreter available.

Despite that barrier, Klugo has made remarkable progress in a short amount of time, Miller said.

"Initially (his deafness) slowed things down but George is so clever at understanding, he is so good at reading my poor attempts at sign language, we built a rapport," he said. "They have to also overcome emotional difficulties with the loss of a leg. He progressed through that quickly. He was motivated from the get-go. We never had a problem with motivation. He's just a fantastic patient."

Klugo is also a fantastic person, occupational therapy assistant Hannah Holbrook was quick to add.

Klugo's energy and enthusiasm are so infectious, it's having a buoyant effect on other patients at the center, Holbrook said.

"I had another patient amputee who wasn't motivated," she said. "And then he watched Mr. Klugo, and he was excited after that, after seeing George in the therapy room."

Klugo will probably never be totally on his own again, but the plan is to eventually get him out of the Corning Center and into some kind of assisted living arrangement, Miller said.

While he has enjoyed his stay at the Corning Center, Klugo, who considers himself "semi-retired" from delivery driving, can't wait to get back to Elmira and be with his friends again.

"A lot of people know me in Elmira. These guys (at the center) are my friends. They have been really good to me," he said. "I have a lot of deaf friends. Some of them come and visit me all the time. A lot of my friends haven't been able to come. They can't get to Corning."

There is no precise timetable for Klugo's release, but with his level of motivation, it shouldn't take long, Miller said.

"In the last month, he has become very independent getting out of bed into his wheelchair," he said. "That's a huge deal. Two months ago, he could only walk 25 feet.

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