SPORTS, FITNESS & DANCE

The Life Changing Tree Causing Me To Be An Amputee

Sebastiana Lopez

The Accident & Day I Became An Amputee

It was a beautiful day in Charleston SC, so beautiful that after initially grabbing my car keys I had to go back up to my apartment for my motorcycle keys. We don’t have many non-humid hot days in Charleston, so I just had to ride. The day was 28 Feb, 2015. A day that will forever be scorched in my memory. As I was leaving my apartment in the middle of a turn, an animal clipped my front tire which in turn hit the curb and sent me flying into a tree and I gave it a big sideways bear hug. Remarkably, I did not lose consciousness. I hit the tree so hard I kicked myself in the face and broke my visor. As I laid there, and the dust and ringing in my ears started to settle, I went into a type of hypervigilance mode. I started to assess my injuries. Luckily the years of self-aid buddy care (SABC) training I found incredibly redundant and honestly annoying in the Air Force kicked in. 

I looked to my right first and saw that my leg was flipped up in an unnatural way. Heal towards my head. Seeing my leg like that instantly made me want to throw up. I thought to myself- don’t throw up you’ll drown in your helmet. I figured it was shock I was experiencing so I went to turn on my side but couldn’t move. I looked at my right leg again. This time I noticed a pool of blood start to form. My femur was broken in half which severed my femoral artery and my knee was shattered. I thought, shit, better get a tourniquet on that. But again, none of my limbs were responding. I tried to grab my belt with my left arm and that’s when I noticed how completely mangled it was. Then breathing itself became extremely painful. More so than the leg or the arm. I had broken nearly every rib and my sternum which punctured my left lung. I knew I had to continue breathing. I would hold my breath as long as I could and mentally prepare myself for each breath. Knowing, anticipating, dreading the pain that would accompany each breath, I kept breathing. Just breathe. Just breathe. After I realized I had absolutely no control of what came next or the ability to help myself, I looked up at the sky and it was beautiful. Breathe. Breath. Just keep breathing as long as you can. About 15 min later, a red Honda element went whizzing passed me. I tried with all my strength to wave it down or say help but was completely paralyzed. Luckily, he saw my motorcycle in the middle of the road and came hauling in reverse back. Ive never seen someone so panicked. He held his hands on his head asked me if I wanted him to call an ambulance…ummmmm DUHHH I thought to myself. Poor guy was in shock himself. It took the fire department another 10 min to arrive. I remember hearing the sirens, I've never been so excited to hear such a noise. When I got to the hospital I really started to feel my body shut down. First my kidneys, severe sharp pain. I started to feel like a blow-up mattress starting to loose air, collapsing on itself. Deflated. At the time because I was very responsive no one had a clue at the extent of my internal injuries. That was the first of three times I flatlined. I had a blood count of 1! I dissected my carotid artery and my aortic artery ruptured. I had lacerations to nearly all of my internal organs and was bleeding out from the inside and outside.

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Waking up from coma

Much to my surprise, I woke up about a month later from a medically induced coma. It was so foggy and I looked up at my family members they were looking down at me smiling, but with very sad eyes. I didn’t understand why they were sad, I was just so happy to be alive. I thought I died. To help me make sense of what was going on, one of my sisters grabbed my right hand and broke the news to me that they had to amputate my right leg quite high above the knee and my left arm was far from safe from being amputated itself. After a few seconds, I wrote down, where’s my running blade? Silly me, I had no idea how hard and how long walking let alone running would be and take. As the weeks went by in the ICU, I had a stroke due to my uncontrollable fevers, lost complete use of my right arm due to a hidden brachial plexus injury, and the nerves in my left leg below my knee were not firing (total drop foot). All four of my limbs were severely impaired or missing. You would think to an athlete this would be the worst news. To me, the worst news came from some of the doctors. That if I made it out of the ICU I’d live a life being taken by others. Everything. Clothing, bathing, toileting, eating, everything. They told me that I’d be on dialysis for the rest of my probably very short life unless I got two new kidneys. It took me months before I could pee for the first time without a catheter…I totally freaked out with joy when it happened.

Walter Reed Hospital

After I was stable enough to fly, I was transferred to Walter Reed Military Medical Hospital. I spent the first five months post-accident inpatient/ICU then back and forth for most of 2015. After the first five months, I had lost nearly all my muscle. I went from 165lb with 16% body fat to 85lbs in a matter of months. I was very fragile and my mother had to help me with everything and go everywhere with me. It really hit me when we were eating lunch at a restaurant on post, I looked up from my bowl of noodles to catch a baby staring at me. We both had food all over our faces and around our bowls, bibs on, and strapped to a chair. I was an adult in an infant’s body. It felt like someone punched me in the throat. I didn’t cry, but the urge to scream and cry was there. I continued to stare at the baby, and he started laughing and really enjoying trying to figure out how to get the noodles in his mouth. Perspective. In 27 yrs I’ve never gained and understood so much of it then in that instance. For the first time I felt, WOW what a great opportunity I have to literally start over, “grow up” again and rewrite my life. And boy did I just run with that.

My Life As An Amputee Today

Here I am now, nearly 3 yrs later, only 1 yr. since I’ve been released from the hospital living completely and independently on my own. Since my accident I’ve competed and medaled at several national and international events. I bought a house, started college back up, I help train others, and I speak. I’m back to 16.5% body fat weighing in at 148lbs with my prosthetic on. So, who cares if/when the odds are stacked up against us, bring it on. We will not be defeated and if/when we fail, we will learn and emerge stronger, faster well informed. Never stop.

EMPOWER OTHERS!

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