Granite Falls man says he’s grown in face of challenges

GRANITE FALLS — One recent Sunday, Jim Romack, pastor of The Father’s House, asked his congregation: “What are you thankful for?”

One member, 48-year-old Mike Moore, didn’t hesitate.

“Prosthetics,” he said.

It might seem an odd response until you know a little about the past 17 months of his life.

In April of last year, a nip from one of his dogs, Sadie, a brown Labrador and blue heeler mix, triggered a blood infection so severe that he was admitted to a hospital’s intensive care unit. One evening, doctors warned his family he might not make it though the night.

Although he survived, the infection so badly damaged his hands and feet they looked as if they were frostbitten — blackened, dying and in Moore’s words “hard as rocks.”

His legs had to be amputated below the knee. His right hand had to be cut off. Three fingers from his left hand were removed.

All that might have left many people emotionally overwhelmed and bitter over their fate.

Moore, though, quickly set about rebuilding his life. He thought about his progress on a recent drive to Everett. He recalled the help he needed in the beginning from his partner, Karin Coleman, just to slide from his wheelchair to his bed.

“I just chuckled to myself,” he said. “It’s funny how much I’ve grown in a year.”

Last September, he was fitted with two prosthetic legs. While doctors had predicted it might take him six months to learn how to balance and walk on his own, Moore surprised nearly everyone but himself by how quickly he adapted.

Moore had barely broken the balance barrier with his prosthetic legs when he set a new goal.

One day last fall as he left a medical appointment and got into the passenger seat of his sporty five-speed Hyundai Tiburon, Moore told Coleman that he wanted to figure out a way to drive again.

With two artificial legs, an amputated right hand and half the fingers of his left hand gone, it seemed a pipe dream, even for someone as determined as Moore.

A taste of freedom

In late October 2009, Moore and Coleman drove to Everett. Although Coleman had spent months taxiing Moore to medical appointments, this time the trip was for her.

Coleman had been diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2009 — about a month before Moore’s dog bite. After first completing chemotherapy treatments, she was being treated with radiation.

With a little time to kill before her scheduled appointment, they pulled into a parking lot near Everett Community College.

“I think I want to try to drive,” he told Coleman. They traded seats.

Moore must have felt a little of the same mixture of nerves and excitement as teens feel during their first driving lesson.

It had been six months since the dog bite — six months of being chauffeured everywhere he went.

“There was nobody around. We were in a big, open parking lot,” he said. “The only thing I had to worry about was the little cement things.”

With this step, Moore had another taste of the freedom and independence he hoped to regain.

Many people told Moore that he should set his sights a little lower, to settle for driving an automatic and to get his car outfitted with special adaptations for the disabled.

Moore was having none of it. He learned to shift the car’s gears pushing and pulling with the stub of his right hand, with an assist from his forearm for fifth gear.

“I’m missing my hand,” he said. “I’ve still got my arms.”

Heading back to work

Before his illness, Moore worked at Spencer LLC, a custom cabinet shop in Monroe.

Returning to his job would allow life to seem whole again, for him to rejoin the ranks of regular “working Joes.”

For all the ways he had figured out how to adapt to life with his amputations, returning to a woodworking shop, with its table saws and sanders, shellac and polishes, might have seemed like a hurdle too high to overcome.

His boss, Carl Spencer shared Moore’s goal. He thought Moore could return to his old job of production manager.

Moore would oversee a cabinet-making business based on the Toyota production system, with its quick turnaround of orders, lean inventory and processes that allow employees to be moved from one work station to another to help eliminate backups and ensure smooth production.

But standing on his prosthetics for more than short periods of time initially sapped his energy and left him exhausted.

“My concern was: Did he have the endurance to make it all day long?” Spencer said.

His first day back on the job was July 5, nearly 15 months after his near-fatal dog bite.

Since then, Moore’s stamina has rebounded so much he often is up and walking around the shop for half to two-thirds of every day, Spencer said. But sometimes he has to tell him to take it easy, to use his wheelchair to move around the shop.

“I’m glad I’ve got a boss who will allow me to sit in a wheelchair,” Moore said. “He harps on me. He makes me sit. I say, ‘Ah, gawd. Fine.’

“I keep pushing and paying the price … When I work all day standing is when I’ll feel like I conquered something.”

Moore has figured out the adjustments he had to make to do many of the tasks around the shop, including using a forklift to pluck shipments of wood from the back of a tractor trailer.

But a lot of what Moore excels at is his skill as a manager, Spencer said. Production has run so smoothly since Moore returned that employees have earned a profit-sharing bonus of $2 to $3.50 an hour for “three months, going on four,” Spencer said.

The little frustrations

For all the ways Moore found to adapt to his new life, it hasn’t always gone smoothly or easily.

He remembers the fear he felt when medical staff first began teaching Moore how to use a board to slide from his wheelchair to a bed.

“I was scared,” he said. “I was afraid of falling off the board and falling on the ground.”

Each day, he faces the frustration of remembering how easy routine tasks used to be. “I just have to adjust and know it will take a lot longer,” he said. “I can’t dwell on I can’t do this and I can’t do that.”

Just to shower and get ready for work initially took an hour and 20 minutes, although he’s since cut that time about in half.

After he recently jacked up Coleman’s car, he went back to house to get an adapter for his torque wrench to remove the lugnuts. When he reached into his toolbox, he couldn’t grasp the socket. Other tools were in the way.

“It just really upset me,” he said. “I ended up sitting in the laundry room crying like a baby. So I shook it off and went at it the next day.”

The Herald published a story about Moore’s amputations and long recovery from his dog bite last October. The outpouring of support he and his family received was overwhelming, he said.

People responded with cards and donations. One person sent passes for movie tickets, so he and Karin could just enjoy a quiet evening together as a couple.

“It’s just amazing how generous people are, and how caring,” he said. “If I could hug everybody, I would.”

Now that life has regained its rhythms, Moore has begun to write his wish list for what he would like to provide for his family.

“My next goal is to own a house and have a boat in the driveway,” he said. Not a big boat, something small enough to tow, but big enough for the couple to sleep in overnight.

“I would like to fish again, and go crabbing when the season is open,” Moore said. “I just want something for Karin and I to just go to and relax and get away for the weekend.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486;

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