Back in the Race
September 24, 2008 was a day that changed Steve Martin’s life forever. A military policeman and Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) officer, Steve was in Afghanistan on a work assignment when the unthinkable happened – the Humvee he was riding in was ambushed and hit by an improvised explosive device. He was thrown from the vehicle, but has no memory of the event or what happened after that.
“The next thing I knew, I was in a helicopter and being medivaced from Germany to Phoenix,” Steve recalls. He was transported to a valley hospital, where the long battle to recovery began.
The blast had shattered both of Steve’s legs. He suffered severe compound fractures in his left leg and his right ankle was completely crushed. He underwent multiple surgeries to try to salvage his ankles and feet, but the results were not what Steve had hoped they would be. “I can’t even tell you how many plates, screws and wires I had in my legs,” he said. “Even after the surgeries my feet were pointed down and I was told I would never really be able to walk again. I didn’t want to be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. I just couldn’t accept that.”
Never giving up hope, Steve did a little research and found Anthony Rhorer, MD, orthopedic trauma surgeon at Scottsdale Healthcare. “I was tired of being told what couldn’t be done for me. At that point, I wanted to hear that something could be done to improve my condition, so I called Dr. Rhorer. It ended up being the best decision I ever made.”
In March of 2009, Dr. Rhorer performed his first surgery on Steve. He cut the Achilles tendon in his right ankle and reattached it in an effort to correct the angle of his foot. While this was successful in correcting the angle, Steve still had no movement. But he still wasn’t giving up.
After that surgery, Steve met with Dr. Rhorer every two to three weeks to review his progress and see what his next options were. “Dr. Rhorer was fantastic,” Steve recalled. “He really listened to me and considered what I wanted. He asked me what my goals were and when I told him I wanted to go back to work on the force, he didn’t think I was crazy. He said he was going to do everything in his power to make that happen.”
It was during this time that Steve began to make a very hard decision. He contemplated if it would be in his best interest to actually have his legs amputated and “start from scratch,” so to speak. To help him make this difficult decision, he went on a trip to San Diego. He wanted to put his toes in the sand to see if it was more important for him to feel the sand beneath his feet or to actually walk on it.
“So there I was, sitting on Mission Beach in San Diego, trying to decide what was more important,” he said. “And it suddenly hit me. I had my hands in the sand. I will always be able to feel it somehow. But just feeling it wasn’t enough - I needed to be able to walk on it!”
And so in September of 2009, Steve made the decision to have both legs amputated below the knees. “At this point, my ankles were as good as they were ever going to get; in fact, they would probably have ended up getting worse. So I told Dr. Rhorer I wanted them gone!”
Steve was very impressed with the support he received from Dr. Rhorer on his decision. After doing extensive research and talking with other amputees, he decided that he wanted an Ertl Reconstructive amputation. This is a technique where a bone bridge is formed between the tibia and fibula after the leg has been amputated, which allows the limb to carry more weight and be fitted better for prosthesis.
Dr. Rhorer agreed to do the procedure, but because it is more commonly used in the military, he told Steve he needed to research it thoroughly. “He was completely honest with me about everything and I really appreciated that,” Steve commented. “In fact, on the morning of my surgery Dr. Rhorer was waiting on a phone call from a surgeon at Walter Reid Army Medical Center for some last minute tips for the surgery!”
The surgery was a success. Less than two months later, Steve rolled in to Hanger Prosthetics & Orthotics in his wheelchair and walked out on his first set of temporary prosthetics. It took him three grueling months of physical therapy and then finally during one of his sessions in March of 2010, he pushed his wheelchair away and never sat back down in it again.
“It wasn’t easy and there were times that I wondered if I made the right decision,” Steve said. “I spent five days a week in physical therapy for almost a year, but looking back now, every minute of that was worth it. I don’t have a single regret.”
And it was indeed worth it. Today, Steve is back on duty as a DPS officer, being one of only four double amputee police offers in the United States. In March of 2011 he ran a full marathon in New Mexico with a 35 pound backpack on his back to honor WWII soldiers, and in July he completed a full triathlon in Hawaii. He also enjoys everything from scuba diving to ping pong whenever he can.
“There is nothing that I can’t do today, and I owe it all to Dr. Rhorer and the wonderful staff at Scottsdale Healthcare. It has been a great experience, and because he was open-minded, listened to me and never lost sight of my goals, I am now able to do things I could never have dreamed about before.”
“As I was recovering, every single step I took hurt and every ounce of pain was just a reminder not to give up. Now, I can’t wait for what lies ahead…and I am especially looking forward to many more walks on the beach.”
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