Following a dramatic weight loss, 42-year-old amputee Stanley Hollar is hoping to finally be able to walk again for the first time since 1996 — but first he’ll have to clear a significant financial hurdle.
Hollar — a substitute teacher from the very small town of Rushville, Indiana — told PEOPLE that he couldn’t remember a time when he wasn’t overweight.
“Even in Kindergarten I was nearly 100 lbs.,” he said. “It was just something I lived with my entire life. From time to time, I [would] try to lose some of the excess [weight], just to gain it back — with interest.”
And in 1996, when Hollar was a 20-year-old sophomore in college, his life changed after he found out he needed to have one of his legs amputated.
While playing goalie during an indoor soccer match — a position Hollar liked because it didn’t require much movement — his knee went out while blocking a shot.
Although Hollar would eventually learn he had dislocated his knee, tearing all the collateral ligaments and severing an artery, during his first visit to the ER, doctors told him they didn’t see any broken bones in his x-rays and thought he just had a sprain.
While there’s a chance an MRI machine would have been able to spot what was really going on with his knee, Hollar told PEOPLE that at the time, the machine could not handle somebody his size, so he was not able to use it.
But shortly after starting physical therapy, Hollar began to experience so much pain that he went back to the ER again, which is when doctors realized the true extent of Hollar’s injury and informed him his leg would need to be amputated.
“As you can imagine, it was devastating,” Hollar told PEOPLE. “I really thought my life was ending…But like my weight, I got used to it and kept on keeping on.”
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Since then, Hollar has not been able to walk freely and has been using a prosthetic leg that was “never really comfortable to wear for any length of time.”
“Because I was so large, they had to make it large enough to support my weight. I think the farthest I walked outside of therapy with it was a couple thousand feet. Even that was so exhausting,” he said, adding, “The wheelchair became my constant companion.”
Almost 20 years later, Hollar was given no choice but to get serious about losing weight. In February 2015, doctors told him that if he didn’t start losing weight, he wouldn’t make it past his next birthday.
“The wakeup call gave me the FIRM kick in the pants,” Hollar told PEOPLE, adding, “I am so glad it did. I got a whole new lease on life. I should have died in 2015, but now I am alive and really learning to enjoy life. The life I should have had all along.”
Following bariatric surgery, Hollar changed his diet, started lifting weights and going to the gym. Since then, he’s lost almost 500 lbs. and and has reached a weight he hasn’t been at since the 5th grade: around 190 lbs.
“The weight loss I accomplished was in stages,” he explained. “You start small and build. You go a little farther or you do a little more each day. Before long, you won‘t recognize the new you …The key is to just start.”
But although the weight loss left Hollar healthier than he’d ever been, it also posed a unique problem: his old prosthetic leg no longer fit properly, but before he could be fitted for a new one, he needed to get rid of his excess skin — which would cost him.
“The skin removal surgeries are considered cosmetic, which is not covered by insurance,” Hollar told PEOPLE.
“In order for this to happen, I need to come up with $25,000,” he said, adding that “it would take me years, if not decades to save it on my own.”
But luckily, Hollar’s had some help raising the funds he so desperately needs after one of his friends created a website: helpstanleywalk.com.
So far the YouCaring fund has raised just over $10,000, which means Hollar’s still halfway short of his goal of raising $25,000.
“So far we have enough for the first surgery,” Hollar continued, adding that the surgery, which will remove the majority of hanging excess skin off his legs, is tentatively scheduled for June.
And if all goes well, he’ll have a second surgery in 2019, after which he’ll hopefully “be properly fitted for [a] new prosthetic and starting to walk again by 2020.”
“Physically, I am in the best shape I have ever been. I finally, and literally, have the weight of the world (1/4th of a ton) off my body,” he said, adding that his weight loss journey won’t be complete until he can walk again. “I long and need to walk again,” he explained.
But even though he’s still confined to his wheelchair, Hollar is adamant about maintaining a more active lifestyle. In addition to his regular workouts, in September of last year, the 42-year-old completed a 5K race using his wheelchair as a skateboard.
“I am looking forward to when I get my new properly fitting prosthetic being able to walk or even run that 5K,” Hollar said, adding, “When I finally get the new prosthetic leg, I could go anywhere. The possibilities are limitless.”