Growing up, there were two constants in Joseph Pleban’s life: sports, and the regular ankle injuries that accompanied them.
Pleban had tried his luck at swimming, snowboarding, wakeboarding, soccer, football and rugby over the years, but kept on injuring his left ankle.
Finally, after a wakeboarding injury in 2008, doctors opened up the ankle and discovered Pleban wasn’t just injury-prone: He had Pigmented Villonodular Synovitis, a rare joint disease that formed a series of benign tumors in his ankle.
The diagnosis prompted a frustrating cycle: Doctors would remove the tumors, only to see them grow back years or even months later. Through the ordeal, Pleban was forced to undergo radiation treatment and – even worse – give up sports.
After an MRI in March revealed the tumors had grown back yet again, Pleban was struck with a difficult decision. He could do what his doctors suggested – have an ankle-fusion operation and commit to a lifetime of occasional surgery. Instead, he decided to cut the Gordian knot and have his entire lower leg amputated.
After the amputation, he reasoned, he’d be able to return to sports without worrying about the debilitating ankle injuries that had plagued him throughout his life.
“It came down to either going through surgeries for a good portion of my life or have one surgery to end them all and be as active as I want on a prosthetic,” Pleban told Medavia.
But it was one thing to come to the decision, another to actually go through with it. To get ready for the adjustment, Pleban began making a pre-amputation photo diary, documenting the last adventures of his lower leg before it would be gone for good on his Facebook page, The Last Adventures of Joe’s Left Foot. He went skydiving and paintballing and took a Caribbean vacation with his girlfriend.
To poke fun at his upcoming surgery, Pleban posed alongside friends with saws, imitated a peg-legged pirate and even got a small tattoo around his ankle that read “Please Cut Here.”
Before the surgery, Pleban sent an image of the tattoo to his surgeon, who became the only doctor in history to appreciate his patient telling him what to do.
In June, Pleban finally took the plunge, having his lower leg amputated at Georgetown University Hospital. His sister shared highlights of his adventures with Reddit, which led to him conducting an AMA session.
“Right before the surgery, I was definitely freaking out a bit,” he told the site. “It was such a ‘no turning back’ decision. But as soon as I woke up from the surgery and looked down, I knew I had done the right thing.”
On his Facebook page, Pleban thanked all his new Internet fans for their kindness and generosity.
“I never thought that this would blow up so much!” he wrote. “It makes the healing process so much easier when I know there are so many great people supporting me. I will make sure to keep you all updated on my progress.”
On Reddit, Pleban shared at least one plan for the future. This Halloween, he’s planning to dress up “as a surfer, my girlfriend as a shark.”