Sarah Calvert

Sarah Calvert has balanced her career as a school principal and her rehabilitation as an amputee patient at West Park

Sarah Calvert

“You can’t allow a challenge to become a disability.” This is what Sarah Calvert, elementary school principal, diabetic, and two-time West Park patient, tells her students about the amputation of her legs. With the amputation of her second leg this past summer, she continues to rise to the challenge.

Calvert, who was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 1997, was well aware of the heightened risk diabetics face with their extremities and infection. After finding a blockage in the artery of her left knee and foot in 2017, she underwent an angioplasty and had some of her toes amputated. Despite these procedures, Calvert eventually developed gangrene and had her first lower-leg amputation and her first stay at West Park Healthcare Centre in December, 2017.

“I didn’t know what West Park was before I came, but I loved it here,” Calvert recalls. “Everyone here knows exactly what they’re doing, the whole unit is amputees, and there are lots of diabetics on that unit as well.”

Being a principal at an elementary school presented its own set of challenges for Calvert during her physical rehabilitation at West Park, and when she returned to work. Calvert took a medical leave of absence to focus on her health over the winter of 2017 and again in 2018, when she came back as an outpatient to adjust to her prosthetic leg.

Just two years after her first amputation, Calvert was given more bad news - complications from her diabetes had led to neuropathy in her right foot, leaving her with no feeling in the foot whatsoever. The ensuing cuts and blisters that she was unaware of, often led to infection.

During this year’s COVID-19 pandemic, Calvert learned she had an infection in her heel, and the treatment would leave her at high risk for multiple heel fractures and further infections over time. Her options were to live with the risk or amputate her lower right leg. Considering her first experience with a foot infection three years prior, Calvert decided on amputation. 

Following her amputation, Calvert returned to West Park for initial physical rehabilitation in July of 2020, and returned in September for prosthetic rehabilitation, right at the beginning of her school year. But as the pandemic had upended the way schools were running this year, Calvert was able to take advantage of newly offered virtual schooling.

Instead of taking the time off, Calvert has been juggling both her prosthetic rehabilitation from West Park as well as being principal of a virtual elementary school where she oversees approximately 1,000 students and a faculty, all from her hospital room before being discharged in October.

“I was so bored during my first recovery when I took time off, so when the opportunity to work with a virtual school came up, it was perfect,” Calvert explains. To balance her work and rehabilitation, Calvert splits up her day; rehab in the morning; school meetings around noon; other clinics in the afternoon; and she finishes up school in the evenings while also making use of her weekends to catch up on emails and return calls. 

Clearly someone who likes to keep busy, Calvert has found other ways to work with West Park, even when she’s not a patient. She joined the Patient Family Advisory Committee (PFAC) and the new Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee (EDIC), bringing valuable experience as both former patient and veteran principal of diverse student populations.

As for her recovery, Calvert is thriving with her two prosthetic legs. “I find it remarkable that I can walk with a walker and two prosthetics and not feel off balance like I used to,” she remarks. “I’m making a lot of progress physically, and I’m able to keep working and doing what I love to do, which is working in school. As I tell my students, you can’t allow a challenge to become a disability. And I can show them that by setting an example.”