Limb Loss Awareness Month: Matt’s Story

This winter, Matt Johnson got an email from Magee asking if he’d like to update believe@Magee blog readers on how he’s doing since his below-the-knee amputation. His quick reply said more about his recovery than an hour-long interview could. “I would love to,” he wrote. “I’ll be skiing all day Friday. Can we talk on Monday?”

Matt was a fairly active 24-year-old living in the University City section of Philadelphia at the time of his injury on March 28, 2015. He would bike or run about once a week, but he rode his motorcycle almost everywhere.

While riding his motorcycle to a friend’s house, Matt was hit by a car that cracked his left femur. He was conscious the whole time and remembers everything.

“I was aware enough to make my body go limp when I was hit,” Matt recalls, so he could better absorb the impact of the crash. He told people nearby to call an ambulance.

Surgeons at Hahnemann University Hospital tried to save Matt’s leg, but he had lost too much blood. They ultimately had to amputate it below the knee.

Matt spent two weeks as an inpatient at Magee.

“My first few days at Magee, I was very nonchalant about telling people what happened,” Matt says. “I wasn’t really accepting my emotions.” But the reality of Matt’s new circumstances crept in. He’d break down sometimes.

“People would say, ‘Don’t worry! Everything is going to be fine,’” Matt recalls. “And in the back of my mind, I’m like, ‘What do you know? You have both feet.’”

But Matt’s Peer Mentor, Tommy Lyon, knew exactly what he needed to hear – and see. Like Matt, Tommy was an amputee in his 20s who had survived a motorcycle accident.

“Tommy came in and he just had this glow, this swag. He was so comfortable with himself,” Matt says. “Talking with Tommy made me see life after amputation.”

For Matt, that life includes adventure sports he’d never tried before his injury, like rowing, rock climbing, and white water kayaking. It also means a new career. Matt had worked as a server at the Union League of Philadelphia, on his feet all day throughout the historic club’s grand dining rooms. Remarkably, Matt returned to work just seven months after his injury, having spent only about half that time with his prosthetic. IMG_0105

“I tend to overdo it and push myself to the limit. I realized quickly it was way too soon to be doing that kind of work,” Matt says. “I finally sat myself down and said ‘You can’t do this, and that’s ok.’ Amputation has forced me to learn about myself and how not to push myself too hard.”

With two investment properties and a third in the works, Matt now plans to pursue real estate full time. He’s already taken the necessary classes, and his exam is scheduled. “It’s a career where you’re rewarded based on your results, and that’s important to me,” Matt says.

Recently, Matt stopped by Magee to visit his physical therapist Chris Carroll. He was able to chat with a young amputee patient and share his story. Matt is now a Peer Mentor himself.

“There’s only one thing to do: you have to move forward,” Matt says.

To keep moving, Matt applied for a grant to get a running leg, which should be ready in May.

“One of my biggest motivations is proving to myself that I can still do all I did before and more,” Matt says. “When people say you can’t or won’t do something, there’s always a way to accomplish what you need to do.”

To learn more about the Amputation program at Magee and resources for amputees, click here

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