Our first featured FEISTY Chic - Melissa Kelley
A warm, summer evening ride to watch the sunset on Paris Mountain changed my life in the blink of an eye.
Hope & Butterflies
It was a warm summer evening in July 2000 – perfect for a motorcycle ride to Paris Mountain to watch the sunset. I got on the back of a friend’s motorcycle and we hit the road. As always, I said a silent prayer before we left and then gave him the signal that I was ready. About 5 miles down the highway, a car, going in the opposite direction, turned into the median to cross the highway and ran directly into us, directly at my left leg. As I think back, I remember seeing the bumper of the car approaching me and then hearing a loud crunch and feeling a sudden pain. I thought my leg may be broken. The next thing I remember was holding onto the driver of the motorcycle and saying, “Pull over my leg hurts”. My friend had been able to maintain control of the motorcycle and had driven long enough to pull over safely to the side of the road. When I looked down at my leg I saw bones, muscle, blood and more than I ever cared to see. I do not remember getting off the motorcycle, but I remember laying my head back on the pavement. I was in excruciating pain.
As I lay on the pavement, I experienced a sudden, peaceful feeling from my head down to my toes. I heard a voice - not an audible voice but it seemed like it to me. God said, “You have lost your leg but we are going to get through this together”. The ambulance arrived, with no sirens. I never passed out, I knew every turn we made in that ambulance ride and informed the paramedic when we had arrived. They wheeled me into the trauma bay of Greenville Memorial Hospital and instantly I was surrounded by a team of medical professionals. My parents had arrived and I remember the doctor showing me a metal plate and telling me that they were going to take me into surgery to put that plate into my foot to repair the damage. I told him he was not going to be able to repair the damage to my leg, because my leg was beyond repair. Remember, God had told me, lying on the side of the road, my leg was lost.
When I woke up in the recovery room I was aware my left, lower leg had been amputated. I spent eleven painful days in the hospital. The nightmares were terrible. Every time I closed my eyes it was a replay of the accident - including the sound of the car hitting us. The pain was terrible even with the strong pain medications. I experienced phantom pains and how real they were. I looked at my body and I no longer had two beautiful legs. I felt like I was no longer a whole woman. A multitude of feelings were drowning me. Yet, at the same time I could still feel God’s peace.
While I was recovering in the hospital, I had a visitor – someone I had never met. She had on shorts with a prosthetic leg and smiley faces all over it. She also had a huge smile on her face, in her walk and in her spirit. I - not so kindly - told her to leave that I would never be like her. She left that day but she did not give up on me, as she continued to visit me and is still a wonderful mentor and friend to me to this day.
I was determined to go home, with my three children, and that I did. My strength during the hospital stay came from support of family and friends, as well as a verse I had recently learned a few months prior - thank God for all things even in the bad situations. So every day I would silently say thank you God for allowing me to lose my leg. I was angry, upset and did not think my life would ever be the same, yet I said thank you! At that time I had no idea why I was thanking him, but I did it.
I endured the next few months, though not very gracefully most days. I hopped on one leg a lot to get things done; I spent the majority of time in a wheelchair or asleep. I had already fallen in love with butterflies, a few months earlier; I had some pieces of butterfly cloth cut to cover up my amputated leg. I had staples above and below my knee that looked like a railroad track of sorts. I did this because I was ashamed of my leg. In public people would stare at me, making me feel embarrassed and ugly. Needless to say, I did not feel very pretty at this time. I did a lot of physical therapy and was determined to walk again - no matter what. Most days I would hop on one leg to do what could not be done in a wheelchair. From the inability to walk, to the logistics of using a wheelchair in my home, it sent me into a deep depression. I did not want to see or talk to anyone. I thought my life was over. I felt I would never be a real woman again and definitely not pretty or desirable. Many days I fell while I was home alone. I fell a lot - more than I ever told anyone - because I refused to call for help every time. It was such a struggle sometimes to get out of that floor, but I always got back up.
I had good days as well - days when I would get on the power chair and ride down the street to my parents’ house or to the local store nearby. It felt good to have some independence back. I drove children to school in the mornings and picked them up in the afternoons. I went to the food pantry and got food for us. My strength came from God and determination. I remember a dear friend telling me “this is only temporary” and I got upset with her. She was right….nothing in this world is permanent. The tragic, accidental loss of my leg was, and still is, only temporary. The moments of despair and not wanting to live any longer were only temporary.
Through the grace and strength of God I became a feisty, determined woman that wanted nothing but to walk again. I worked tirelessly with my physical therapist. I talked with my prosthetist and he knew it was time, not physically but emotionally, for me to have my first prosthetic leg. I told him I wanted be able to do what other people do like swimming, painting my toenails and walking. So, the process began. I had choices of having a plain, skin toned prosthesis with no metal showing, but with that I could not go swimming. I chose the prosthetic that had the metal showing - the one that could get wet and dirty and be washed. The toe nails could be painted and that was very important to me. In the socket part of the prostheses I was able to pick out a piece of cloth for them to meld into the fiberglass of my new leg. Thinking back to my visitor with smiley faces all over her prosthetic leg, there was no question that I wanted butterflies. My favorite bible verse is 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation: the old has gone, the new is here.” This had become my favorite verse in early 1999 when my love for butterflies began and like butterflies, I was becoming new again. I was a new creation; the old went away in the second the car struck my leg on that summer day in 2000.
Learning to walk again was a painful process. Determination, perseverance and HOPE were the keys to each step in my recovery. I went from a wheelchair to a prosthesis with two crutches. It felt awful, it looked awful and I hated it. It was so bad that one day I put it in a duffle bag and returned it to the prosthetic office. I hobbled in on my two crutches with this bag and when I got into the room for my appointment I gave it back to him stating that this was not going to work for me - I just could not do it. He looked me directly in the eye and said he had made me the best prosthetic device that he could, but he could never replace my God-given leg. “I could either put it on and learn how to walk again, or sit in a wheelchair on my pity pot for the rest of my life. The choice is yours,” he said.
As tears flowed down my face, I put the device on and he made the needed adjustments. I walked out on two crutches with an empty duffle bag. I had to patiently learn how to walk on the new leg and to trust it. This process involved a lot of physical therapy, as well as a lot of falling and getting back up again. Things like stepping up onto a sidewalk, taking a flight of stairs, walking on gravel or uneven surfaces, walking in the woods - things we all take for granted and do without thinking - had suddenly become a challenge I was determined to master and overcome. I slowly progressed from two crutches, to one crutch, to a cane and then kept the cane for one extra month after feeling like I could go without it because the therapist said it would help me to walk with no limp.
I had developed an attitude of determination to be a strong woman with pretty toe nails that was going to have a pretty walk even if I had a butterfly metal leg. I got used to people staring at me, for the most part. God gave me strength and willingness. I still had my amputee woman mentor that I talked to through the rough times. Her life was thriving and I wanted to be like her. I was a single mother with three children that depended on me - twin teenage girls that I needed to show how to be strong and succeed, no matter what life throws at you, and a young son who thought the wheelchair was cool to pop wheelies in and the robot-looking leg was cool. I wanted to go back to work. I wanted to feel beautiful again. I wanted to keep my independence as much as I possibly could. I had HOPE and I would remind myself this is only temporary. Practice, therapy, hope, and determination became a way of life for me during the next few months. Thank you God, for allowing me to tragically lose my leg. It has afforded me many opportunities that I wouldn't have had otherwise.