Guam: 7/19/2011. It happened in an instant. One minute he was driving his car on a familiar road; the next he was waking up in a hospital, with no recollection of the last few months and the day that forever changed his life.
It was a typical summer evening on the island of Guam. JR, an assistant project manager at a construction firm, had just finished his work for the day. “I was was headed out to do some training in preparation for my second half-marathon,” he recalls. Running, whether in competitive events or just for fun, was his passion. As he drove, it began to rain. The road had recently been repaved, but the rain grooves had not yet been added. JR remembers losing control of his car on the slippery road, but none of the accident itself.
“We received a call from the police saying our son had been involved in an accident and we needed to get to the hospital,” remembers JR’s mother. There was case of mistaken identity, and she was told it was her younger son, Michael, who had been hurt. “I tried to call his cell phone, but there was no answer. Then I called JR’s phone, and the police answered. I explained who I was and asked what color the car was. When they said it was silver, I knew then that it was JR and not Michael.”
Fortunately for JR, the accident had occurred just about a mile from the U.S. Naval Hospital where doctors had extensive training in treating traumatic injuries suffered by soldiers in combat. If he had been taken to the local hospital, JR would not have survived the night. Even so, there was little that could be done to save his badly injured legs; they were both amputated above the knee.
Two months after his accident, JR was transferred to a rehabilitation facility in Hawaii where he was fit with his first prosthetic limbs. He was eager to start walking and get back to living an independent life, but found it difficult to walk on them. Discouraged and depressed, he went back to Guam and actually made them into “stubbies” by removing the knee/shin parts of the prostheses and attaching the feet directly to the sockets. “I was able to get up and around like that, but that was not how I wanted to live the rest of my life,” JR explains.
Prosthetic care on Guam is extremely limited. A prosthetist would fly in every six weeks to provide necessary services for the island’s amputees. Repeated attempts to fit JR with comfortable sockets he could function in were unsuccessful, so he turned to the internet for alternatives. Once he had secured funding, he searched for a prosthetic socket system which would allow him to become active again, and to walk without a cane.
Impressed by what he saw on SCP’s website, JR contacted Rick Myers, and made arrangements to travel to the U.S. to be fit with new sockets and C-Leg microprocessor knees.
One week after being fit with his new prostheses, JR was ecstatic! “I can’t stop telling everyone how comfortable these sockets are!” he exclaimed. “I couldn’t sit like this in the other sockets I had. I’m amazed every day I wear them. Now I want to put my legs on in the morning. I even took a couple naps while wearing my sockets. I couldn’t do that before because I always felt the sockets.”
JR worked hard at gait training and learning new exercises to increase his core strength and balance. Within 2 weeks, he was not only walking with more control and confidence (without the use of a cane), he had learned how to walk on an incline, up and down stairs, and to get up off the ground without any support!
Video: Week One
Video: Week Two
When he returns to Guam, the first thing JR wants to do is move out of his parents’ house. “I’m really looking forward to getting back into my own apartment,” he says with a grin. “They (his parents) are ready to get me out of there!” In addition, he is anxious to get back to working full-time on his firm’s latest project – a condominium complex.
But also high on JR’s list is training for and participating in the 23rd annual Cocos International Crossing which will be held in May. Master swimmers come from throughout the Pacific region to participate in this event, a 3.52 km (approx. 2 miles) channel crossing from the uninhabited Cocos Island to the main island of Guam.
JR will return to the U.S. in June for any further training and prosthetic adjustments he may need. He may even be ready to learn how to run again by then, having come full circle from that devastating summer of 2011 and looking forward to the summer of 2013 – one full of hope and possibilities.