Defining Moments: Losing Limbs, Gaining the World - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Defining Moments: Losing Limbs, Gaining the World

Defining Moments: Losing Limbs, Gaining the World

By Eugene S. Robinson


Because nothing can be taken from you that you don't give away.

By Eugene S. Robinson

Amy Purdy
San Diego

The following is based on the latest episode of Defining Moments With OZY, which airs on Hulu starting April 15.

I put my feet on the floor. I couldn’t feel them. When I looked at them I saw that they were purple. I glanced at my hands and saw that my hands were purple. I said “Mom? I feel like I’m dying.”

My blood pressure had crashed. I was in septic shock. I remember this one nurse, her name was Penny. She had tears going down her face and she asked the doctor, “Why can’t I find a vein?” And he said, “because she’s in cardiac arrest.”

I heard the nurse call my parents and say, “We don’t know what she has but she has maybe two hours left to live.” I was internally bleeding. In the ICU I said to my mom, “What have I got myself into?” The cultures came back and the diagnosis was meningococcal meningitis. They needed to put me into an induced coma. I was given less than a 2 percent chance of living.

Then I felt my last heartbeat. … I could see three silhouettes standing in front of me. They were saying, ‘You can come with us or you can stay.’ I think I was in the space of crossing over.

I remember Dr. Abey next to me and him saying, “Amy? Whatever it is you believe in, believe in that now.” And I said, “I believe in love.”

Then I felt my last heartbeat and suddenly I was in a whole different environment, but I saw enough of a light that I could see three silhouettes standing in front of me. They were saying, “You can come with us or you can stay.”

I think I was in the space of crossing over. But I was like, “NO. I’m not ready to go. I haven’t lived my life yet. I haven’t fallen in love yet.”

When I came out of the coma they told me, “If we don’t amputate your legs here” — and he [the doctor] pointed to my ankle — “we’re going to have to amputate here tomorrow,” and he pointed to my thigh.

I was like, “Let’s do it!”

After losing my legs, I was dealing with so much. I was 83 pounds. But I was ready to go.

My first set of legs weren’t these cool robotic legs. They were just sort of bolted together with this rubber foot, but I thought, “Am I going to be able to snowboard again?”

I loved art. I loved painting. I loved drawing. … A group of guys that I met who were artists, they took me snowboarding one day and I fell in love with it. I knew it’d be something I’d do for the rest of my life.

I tried snowboarding five or six months after getting my first prosthetics. My ankles wouldn’t bend. I fell and my leg came off and went flying down the mountain with my snowboard, but I thought if I could figure out a way to get my ankles to move the way I want them to? Then maybe I can do this again.

So I went on a mission and called every adaptive ski school in the country and said, “Do you know anybody with a prosthetic leg that snowboards? Do you know if there are any snowboard feet out there?” I got no kind of information at all.

I went to my prosthetist and we just grabbed a few different parts and pieces and put them together. We took this ankle from one foot and turned it backward so that it would bend a certain way. I chopped the toes off so I could fit them in my boot.

I needed more knee bend so I took these heel lifts and used duct tape to duct tape them to my feet. They worked.

So in 2005 we [my husband and I] started an organization called Adaptive Action Sports. We create opportunities for athletes with disabilities to be able to follow their dreams.

And so at 30 years old I became an athlete. Ended up being the first female to bring home a bronze medal in Paralympic snowboarding. I was proud of that. That was a gold medal to me.

All of a sudden I was on billboards, cereal boxes, magazines. I was on Dancing with the Stars. I’m getting a lot of media attention. I was terrified to share my story at first … that I would get emotional. But my legs haven’t disabled me, they’ve enabled me. And suddenly I was getting invited to speak at large corporations. I was at the peak of my career.

But I was standing on the stage and I felt this cramp in my calf. It was incredibly painful. Two days later I’m back in the emergency room with a massive blood clot. From my hip down every artery in my left leg. They could remove the blood clot from my thigh but not from the knee down.

So there’s Amy Version 1, before I lost my legs. Amy 2.0: living my dreams, traveling the world, setting goals and achieving them. And Amy 3.0 that actually began with getting knocked down again.

You know when I lost my legs I needed something to pull me through so I gave myself three goals: I’m never going to feel sorry for myself, I was going to snowboard again and that whenever I figure this out I want to help other people do the same.

Right now I really just have to appreciate where I am. I’ve got a loving family. That’s really what’s gotten me through so much.

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