Doctors amputated his legs. But he’s still doing mission trips around the world.

Tony Luparello, left, during a mission trip to Belize. Luparello now prosthetics after doctors amputated both his legs.
Tony Luparello, left, during a mission trip to Belize. Luparello now prosthetics after doctors amputated both his legs. Courtesy of Tony Luparello

Tony Luparello had both his legs amputated in the past 18 months, a result of kidney disease he developed as a teenager. Luparello, 47, has dedicated much of his career to mission work around the world, and now he leads a nonprofit dedicated to making a difference. Here he talks about overcoming challenges and living a life “full of joy.”

Q: You recently started Kingdom Mobilization Network. How did you get involved with mission work?

A: I volunteered with Samaritan’s Purse after Hurricane Katrina and just absolutely loved it. I’m extroverted, and I just love meeting new people, being part of a team and getting people involved in something they’ve never done. God just does something that’s indescribable when people get outside of their comfort zone, lose the phone and focus on loving and serving others. It changes lives.

I love helping to do that – mobilizing people and getting them involved. What I’ve been doing in the past is three or four (mission) trips a year. In addition to trips to Belize, I’m working on another international opportunity in Rwanda. And then, locally, there are so many opportunities. People don’t have to go halfway around the world to serve.

Q: You underwent amputation in May. Have you been on a mission trip since then?

A: Yes, leading families to Belize in July. A lot of people thought I was nuts for going. It wasn’t something I decided on a whim; it was something I prayed about. And the answer was yes.

Q: How did you find out you had kidney disease?

A: I was diagnosed with glomerulonephritis in 1984 during a routine physical when trying out for soccer. There’s no telling how long I had it before they found it during a routine urinalysis. They didn’t know when it would result in kidney failure but told me that, eventually, that’s what would probably happen ... just what a 14-year-old wants to hear.

I was 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds when the kidneys shut down in 1991 the summer after my sophomore year in college. After doing four years of dialysis, I had a kidney transplant in 1995.

Q: Why did doctors decide to amputate your legs?

A: One of the complications after kidney failure was hyperparathyroidism, which caused calcium to be leached from my bones. I basically had the bone density of a 70-year-old man. After a surgery and several medications, my levels swung too far in the other direction. Doctors have theorized that this, in combination with other things, like the years of dialysis, caused the calcium build-up in my feet and legs.

It was a battle for years. I’d done at least 125 sessions in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. I had two lower leg revascularizations, very invasive surgeries to try to restore circulation. But ultimately, we lost the battle, and on April 28, 2016, I lost my left leg. A year later, on May 9 of 2017, I lost my right leg.

Q: What adjustments have you had to make?

A: We had to rearrange how we live, remodeling our downstairs bath. I lived downstairs until I healed because of the risk of falling. There were dramatic changes that affected the whole family. My wife, I can’t even begin to tell you, she’s the real rock star.

Q: Do you have anger, frustration, discouragement about your situation?

A: All of those things. You deal with all those emotions at different points.

I was a young Christian when all this began. The Bible says we are all given different spiritual gifts, and one of the gifts I believe I was given is the gift of faith. I just have faith God is always in control and that it’s going to work out however it needs to work out. I have a different perspective; it’s an eternal perspective. I look at this life as just a blip of time.

Q: What has surprised you the most during this journey?

A: In spite of everything that’s happened – all the surgeries, complications and trials – I’ve still been able to live a life that’s full of joy. I learned God gives you what you need; he gives you the strength to persevere, not before, but right when you need it. That’s a huge lesson. If we knew everything that was coming at us in advance, we’d get overwhelmed. Everyone always says I could never do what you do, but that’s not true. You don’t know until you go through it.

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Tony Luparello – Tar Heel of the Week

Born: New Eagle, Pa., on Nov. 7, 1970

Residence: Cary

Family: Wife, Kathy; 16-year-old son Logan; 14-year-old daughter Ella

Passion: Mission work

Organization: Kingdom Mobilization Network