LUIS OVANDO DE LEON (Amputee)
Everything changed on a rainy morning in January 2010 going to work. That morning my life changed forever, after a tragic accident on the freeway, I faced the devastating news that my right leg must be amputated. All my injuries were life-threating injuries and after so many surgeries trying to save my legs they had to amputate my right leg above the knee. I got a bone and skin graft on my left leg. I was scared, depressed, and hopeless about me and my family’s future. I had so many doubts about my physical, financial, and emotional situation.
As the time went by everything was difficult and dark because of the emotional trauma that was devastating me. I had a deep depression and wanted to give up on life. Luckily for me that year, the Amputee Coalition was having the National Conference in California. I heard about the event, but I was unsure to go. I finally decided to go. I will be most grateful to have attended. Going to conference saved my life. It changed the way I was thinking about my life. By meeting others who live with similar challenges made me realize that I was not alone, that I was going to be okay. That day I completely change my attitude. At conference, I was met my local support group, Amputee Connections of Redlands, led at that time by my mentors Bill Nessel and Bert Horton (who are no longer with us). After connecting with my support group, I became a Certified Peer Visitor by the Amputee Coalition and discovered that peer support is my passion. I volunteer as a peer visitor at Loma Linda University Health PossAbilities program. For me, volunteering brings me healing and peace. he opportunity to give back to the community is fantastic. The most helpful advice to new and existing amputees is to remember that you are not alone. There is help, there is peer support, enjoy and live your life to the fullest.
OWEN DANIELS (Spinal cord injury)
On January 27 2010, my whole life changed forever. I lost control of my vehicle while driving home early in the morning. My vehicle rolled over several times before I was ejected from the vehicle. When I opened my eyes I couldn’t feel my legs and knew immediately that I was paralyzed. The ambulance rushed me to Loma Linda University Medical Center (LLUMC) where I was diagnosed a T9 paraplegic. After a few weeks of rehabilitation at LLUMC East Campus, I was sent home to the real world. Reality began to set in once I got home, and it felt like my life as I once knew it was over. Life seemed so much harder now and I just didn’t know if I would be able to cope with it. Luckily I had family and friends that supported me through that difficult time. After a few more months of doing nothing I finally told myself I wouldn’t let this injury beat me and define the person I was going to be. Before my accident I was a very active person and I vowed to be that guy again one day. That’s when I asked a good friend of mine, who was also in a wheelchair and was very active, to point me in the right direction. My friend introduced me to PossAbilities and from that day forward my life would forever change. The staff at PossAbilities recognized my ability to connect with others and trained me to be a peer visitor and spokesman for the program. Reaching out to help others became a very important part of my recovery and life. I learned that through sharing my story I was able to give others encouragement just like I had been given. Through PossAbilities I got a handcycle so I could get out and be active. Shortly after that I did my first handcycle race. I was immediately hooked. Riding my bike became a passion of mine and I just couldn’t get enough. I applied through the PossAbilities grant program for a racing bike and to my surprise I was selected and was able to buy my first handcycle. From there things moved so fast. I went from no training to training 6 days a week with a coach. Riding anywhere from 10 to as much as 18 hours a week. All I knew was racing. Everyday was a chance to get better, faster, stronger than the day before. I was addicted to the sport and now I had a new goal, to be the best hand cyclists I could be. Now going into my 9th season, multiple national championship podiums, plenty of wins, plenty of losses, plenty of lessons learned, but the best thing about racing has been the friendships I’ve made. I wouldn’t trade those for anything. Through the years, cycling has taught me so much about life and one of the most important lessons it has taught me is, “the mind always shuts down the body, but the body always has more to give”. Currently I’m training in hope of making the National team for USA. Once I accomplish that, I can work to qualify for the Paralympics. I still continue to volunteer and be a spokesman for team PossAbilities trying my best to motivate others who may have felt helpless at some point. Life will give you losses but it’s how you deal with those losses that will define you as a person.
ZIMRI SOLIS (Trilateral amputee)
Zimri Solis was born on December 31, 1982, in Ocotlán in Jalisco, Mexico. He was diagnosed with meningococcal meningitis at the age of 10. One day he spiked a fever, his whole body was hurting and he lost consciousness. His parents were alarmed with the symptoms he was having and took him to the hospital. They were there for a couple of hours before the doctors realized his condition was declining and he was much more serious than they initially thought. Zimri’s parents noticed a helicopter that was landing to pick someone up, little did they know that the helicopter was there for their son. Zimri was immediately airlifted to Loma Linda University Medical Center. When we arrived at Loma Linda, he had no vital signs and was pronounced dead. His family, doctors and nurses started praying for him, and within a short period of time his vitals came back. The doctors explained to his parents that the deadly virus was spreading to his whole body. In order to stop the spread of infection, they had to amputate his limbs. His parents, shocked with the news, didn’t know what to do, but ended up deciding to save Zimri’s life. After several amputation surgeries, he was kept in a coma for four months to allow his body to heal. Zimri describes waking up from the coma feeling like he was reborn. He had to learn how to walk and use his limbs all over again. After being discharged, he started his rehabilitation process at East Campus. While in rehab, he met Murray Brandstater, M.D., who helped him through all of his rehabilitation and surgeries. He became a regular visitor and patient of the Orthotics and Prosthetics Department where he was fitted for prosthetics. He adjusted well and learned that if there was a goal he wanted to reach there was nothing that could stop him. Zimri had an active childhood playing sports and overcoming whatever obstacles he faced. He got involved with the PossAbilities program and has now devoted his life to making a difference for others. He meets with patients in and out of the hospital to share his life story with others in an effort to give them hope and encouragement. He often speaks to Loma Linda University students to help them understand patient care and how to meet the needs of their future patients. Zimri is a father, mentor, and ambassador. He has made it his life’s work to make a difference for others and for that reason he is a hero.
HUGO HUERTA (Stroke survivor)
My name is Hugo Huerta and I had a stroke in 2010 caused by a fungal infection around my heart after surgery to replace an aortic heart valve. The fungus grew undetected for five months after which it formed blood clots that traveled down my leg and to my brain causing mini strokes and a brain aneurism that burst, which required brain surgery. As a result, I experienced loss of control of the right side of my body. I lost the ability to speak, my brain’s processing speed was minimal, completely lost the ability to understand my second language, an encountered emotional and impulse control issues. My family was told that I would most likely never talk, walk, or live independently ever again. I remember thinking that they must be talking about someone else. Today I am independent, read and write in my second language, drive a car, have meaningful relationships, volunteer, teach classes on recovery in person and virtually, am a business owner, and love to share my testimony. Through the grace of God, a lot of hard work, therapy, and recovery steps developed on my journey, I continue to make gains in my brain and body every day. I am so grateful to be alive and I thank God for such a great recovery so far. I strive to pay forward what I have received and learned during this recovery process.
GREG CROUSE (Veteran Amputee)
In 1988, Greg Crouse was serving overseas as a Cannon Crewman on a Howitzer Battery in the US Army. While a pedestrian on a weekend furlough, Greg was struck by a drunk driver on a motorcycle, rupturing his stomach, cracking his hips, shattering his left femur in four places, and severing his left leg below the knee. Crouse was Heli-lifted to the nearest Hospital to be treated, flat lining twice, once on the Helicopter enroute and once on the operating table. Recovery and physical therapy ensued for over 18 months stateside. Upon his honorable service discharge, Greg drifted aimlessly and fell into a bleak period in the ‘90’s. Not finding himself again until 2001, with his discovery of participating in adaptive sports alongside other disabled Veterans and adaptive athletes. In 2003, Crouse discovered a passion for canoeing at a disabled sports event and was discovered by Coach Jan Whitaker. He began traveling with her other disabled athletes, to various venues to exhibit outrigger canoe racing as a possible Paralympic event and sought consideration from the Paralympic committee. Paracanoe was accepted as a Paralympic sport in 2010. Greg has represented the United States multiple times now in international competition in outrigger canoeing. Appearing at international races held in Hawaii (2004 Silver), California (2008 Silver), Poland & New Caledonia (2010 Bronze), Poland & Canada (2012 Bronze), Germany (2013), Brazil (2014), Tahiti (2017 Bronze), and Australia (2019 Gold). Up next, he will be defending his Gold medal in Samoa in 2023 at the biannual IVF Long Distance championship. Greg trains year round with his coastal outrigger canoe club: Kahakai Outrigger competing at venues from Santa Barbara to San Diego. In the off years of the IVF Championships, he will challenge himself with down river races and island to island competitions. Competing in the Hawaiian Molokai Hoe, a race that starts on Molokai island and ends on Oahu: 44 miles in total and the Pailolo challenge race which is a 30 mile down wind run from Maui to Molokai island. Or staying stateside to race down the rapids of the Columbia river Gorge in Washington state.