Randy Alltizer has a pair of good-looking legs. They are decorated with hot pink flamingos, cool blue streams, and neon-green palm trees.
He likes to wear shorts, so his prosthetic lower limbs are often on display for anyone to see.
Ask any question about them; Alltizer doesn’t mind. He’ll even satisfy children’s curiosity by allowing a tap of the knuckles.
“It doesn’t make my life difficult,” Alltizer, 66, says of his double amputation. “It made my life different.”
Then he adds, “Different is OK.”
Alltizer loves to talk to other people, to let them in on the source of his well being.
“I’m proud of what these are,” he says, patting his legs. “It’s who I am.”
To John Hacker, facing amputation of his left leg at mid-thigh, Alltizer is something else: a mentor.
“He’s helped me through a lot,” says Hacker, who is 55 and has dealt with tough times before. Homeless for five years, he now lives in permanent supportive housing in Santa Ana. He gets around on crutches.
Alltizer is ready to walk right beside Hacker — every tentative step of the way. Before surgery and after.
“It’s not only hearing it,” says Hacker, who once worked as a carpenter. “It’s seeing that ‘hey, my life’s not over.’”
Alltizer has firsthand knowledge of what’s on the mind of someone like Hacker, who was hit by a car in 2007 and has endured multiple surgeries on his leg, which became infected deep in the bone after his last operation in April.
Hacker wavered on proceeding with amputation.
That was before he met Alltizer.
Alltizer is not a doctor or a licensed counselor. He does not claim to be an expert about anything other than his own experience.
“I didn’t go out looking for this to do,” Alltizer says in his unassuming way. “It wasn’t a calling to me.”
Alltizer lost his limbs in increments. Eight years ago, he developed an infected ulcer on his left foot that would not heal due to poor circulation and nerve damage — a leading cause of diabetes-related amputation. Doctors cut away the front half of his foot.
Because he no longer had the stability to climb ladders, his career as Randy the Handyman doing repair work in Huntington Beach, Fountain Valley and Westminster ended with early retirement. He eventually lost both legs midway up his shins, with his last amputation in January.
The colorful design Alltizer chose for his prosthesis is an extension of his personality. When he found out the manufacturer could laminate a pattern on it, his daughter visited a thrift store and picked out a black shirt with flamingos and palm trees. She later found three more like it on eBay that Alltizer keeps handy for replacement legs.
Alltizer’s optimism and sense of humor — symbolized by those legs — caught the eye of Valerie Sanden, program director of the Wound Healing & Limb Preservation Center at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital.
Alltizer also had a history of outreach: For years, he and his family joined members of the church they once attended to bring home-cooked meals to homeless people living in local motels.
“He has a servant’s heart,” Sanden, who began referring people to Alltizer this year, said.
In her position, Sanden routinely witnesses people like Hacker struggle with what he calls the “surreal” decision to sacrifice a limb. They are weighing quality of life and loss of life, either way they decide.
When someone is told amputation is the only option and decide against it, what happens to them from a clinical standpoint depends on the extent of the wound, Sanden says.
For some, “they go on for years without living a full life, being contained in their home,” she said. “For others, they come to us with an infection, we may put them on medication. But ultimately, they will be back, and the risk of losing more than just a limb is there.
“They could become septic and the potential for loss of life is a possibility.”
Hacker has sought the advice of multiple physicians. He came to Fountain Valley Regional to inquire about hyperbaric oxygen therapy to heal an infected wound the circumference of a baseball that has been eating away at the bone in his leg.
But he didn’t meet the clinical criteria, according to Sanden: “It’s not what he wanted to hear. He wasn’t ready to hear it.”
Sanden put Hacker in touch with Alltizer back in May.
Alltizer and Hacker have gotten together about a half dozen times over the past few months. They might meet at the hospital, or another spot they prefer, Zubies Dry Dock restaurant in Huntington Beach. Other times, they talk on the phone or text.
Now, Hacker is looking at amputation in late October.
“Are you ready for this?” Sanden asks Hacker during a recent get-together with him and Alltizer at a shady lunch table outside the hospital. “Are you there yet?”
Hacker swallows hard and nods. To him, Alltizer has made the difference.
“He helps me recognize and see that he’s the same guy he was before.”
Well, not quite. But Alltizer continues to work on that.
He visits the driving range regularly, hoping to get his golf game back. His most difficult challenge as a double amputee is being able to stand still. He gave up another sport he loves — deep sea fishing — for that reason.
Alltizer explains to Hacker that he can’t maintain his balance on a rocking boat to haul in a thrashing fish.
Now it’s Hacker’s turn to be the optimistic one. Hacker hopes to get back up on a surfboard someday.
He tells Alltizer with a confident nod, “We’ll go fishing.”