A freshman's nightmare

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MILTON, Ga. - I am an amputee. My story starts Feb. 13, 2007.

I woke up and went to my Tuesday chemistry class at Clemson University, where I stayed late to talk to my professor about getting extra help outside the classroom. I was only in the room for an extra ten minutes. Once he had referred me to a couple of tutors, I started back to my dorm for lunch.

As I was crossing the street next to my dorm, I was struck by a large transit bus – Clemson Area Transit (CAT) bus. Yes, I looked both ways. No, I was not on my cell phone. In fact, I was in the opposite lane when I was struck.

I was struck on my left side. The collision knocked me down and I was dragged under the bus until the driver came to a stop. My back sustained blow-out fractures of three vertebrae (L2, L3 and L4) and my right foot was hit by the wheel, which caused severe damage to my heel pad. I was conscious through the entire accident.

Once the bus was lifted off of me, I was transported to Bowman Field and air lifted to Greenville Memorial Hospital. Once there, I waited for my parents to arrive and several of my friends came in to keep me company. I had my first surgery that night starting at 11 p.m.

That surgery fixed my back. The surgeon was an artist and used a bone graft from my hip to do a series of bone fusing and rebuilding. He managed to do all of this without causing any more damage to my spine – which would have paralyzed me from the waist down. They also performed the first surgery on my right foot, which basically just cleaned the wounds.

Now that my back was fixed, my foot was a major concern. I went through five or six more cleansing surgeries before I was told there was no way my foot could stay in the state it was. The muscles in the heal pad were dying and I was told what my options were.

I could leave the foot in a medical, airtight bag, be in a wheel chair and have surgeries the rest of my life. Or I could let them take muscles from my stomach and back to rebuild the heal pad, which would cause my foot to be three times the normal size, had a three year recovery period and I would still need surgeries the rest of my life. Or I could have an amputation – about a six month period before I could walk on my own again.

I was 18. That was the hardest decision I ever had to make. They had a prosthetist, Tom Martin, come in and talk to me. He told me about what he does and how the process would work. It wasn’t until he was about to leave he told me he was an above-the-knee amputee. That made everything easier. He could walk with no limp, he seemed so normal.

So I went with the amputation – luckily it was below-the-knee. I was in the hospital for only one more week after the surgery. My total time there was a little over four weeks.

Once I was home, my friends and family were there for me 200 percent. It was a hard decision and there are days I still wish it had never happened. But I was walking on my own within two months of the accident and I was running again four months after the accident.

My life is definitely different, now. I have to do things much differently than most people. But my friends and family helped me realize just how strong of a person I am. I came through everything beautifully because of them and I wouldn’t be the person I am today without this experience.