The amputated right leg of 46-year-old ex-Coast Guardsman Timothy Kuncl has become the centerpiece of evidence in a federal legal dispute against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Puget Sound Health Care System. Kuncl’s leg has been frozen, thawed, frozen again, left out in a grass field, hidden in brush, and even used to train rescue dogs since it was amputated in December 2014. Kuncl is suing the V.A. for negligent medical care that ultimately led to the removal of his leg.
Kuncl commented on the appearance of his leg, once the pair were reunited. He told reporters “It just looked pale and Washingtonian, not like the angry piece of flesh that used to be on my body.”
Kuncl’s tragic treatment began in December 2011, when he shattered his lower right tibia after falling off his roof while hanging Christmas lights. Kuncl underwent three surgeries at a V.A. hospital in Seattle. The operations took over two and half years to complete. Metal plates were installed and removed, and Kuncle spent months at physical therapy treatments. He also attempted a variety of V.A.-approved methods to reduce the pain, but all methods administered by the V.A. were ineffective. Contrary to what Kuncl was told by V.A. doctors, the pain in his right leg became more excruciating over time.
Kuncl was eventually forced to seek private care from a non-V.A. affiliated doctor in December 2014. The surgeon amputated Kuncl’s leg, and one year later Kuncl sued the federal government for medical negligence. Kuncl accuses V.A. doctors of leaving him with a leg filled with misplaced and broken surgical hardware, an unfused fracture and no other option but to amputate.
The odds of wining the case were slim. In Kuncl’s medical file two dimensional X-rays of the amputated and mistreated ankle made his claim of negligence open to dispute by defense lawyers. The odds of wining the case increased exponentially when Kuncl told his lawyer that the leg still existed, and could be used to prove mistreatment.
The leg was donated to Northwest Disaster Search Dogs, a nonprofit that trains canines to locate victims of mass casualty incidents. Kuncl wanted to make use of his amputated limb and the non-profit happily accepted. Kent Olson, a dog handler for the organization, told reporters “this was a pretty unusual donation.”
“We’ve never had such a large piece before, and the dogs react differently,” Olson said. “They normally don’t come across that in training. But in disaster-type situations, it’s not unusual to come across larger body parts, so this definitely helped our dogs to be able to detect those.”
The leg was kept wrapped in plastic and frozen when not being used by the rescue dogs. This preservation process is what kept the leg in good condition and preserved it to act as evidence in the case. Forensic pathologists have confirmed the leg belongs to Kuncl and have also confirmed his claims that an orthopedic screw into his ankle that further damaged and exacerbated his injuries.
The trial is set for October. The VA Puget Sound Health Care System has declined to comment on Kuncl’s case or medical treatment.