July 16th, 2011: I was just a regular high school student excited about entering my senior year. I was the captain of my schools' rugby team and unlike many other kids at 18 years old, I had a plan of what I wanted to do with my life. My dad is a welder by trade, a good one at that, and has taught me a lot about it. I really enjoy the whole concept and process of welding. But when I really thought about it, it would probably, in some way, disappoint my dad if I just did the same thing he did. I was always told ‘parents want to see their kids grow up and do better than how they did’ so I thought to myself, "How can I take welding but 1 step further?" And that’s when I developed my plan to enter the Navy upon graduation to learn underwater welding.
The very next day (July 17th), I was a completely different person. I was in what seemed to be a life ending event, but I have found ways to make sure it was only a life changing one.
That day I was going to get lunch with a group of friends at the time. It was 70+ degrees outside and sunny. On the way to the pizza shop we had decided on, I found myself on a backroad I was unfamiliar with. When I think back, I wish I would’ve had enough sense to slow down if I’m not familiar with the road I’m on. But being 18 at the time, I think I’m indestructible. So, as we are traveling along the 35 mph road, I am going a comfortable 55 mph because it’s pretty wide open. That is until we approach a downhill curve that I was unaware of. I barely got through the first turn and as I was gaining back control of my car, it drifted into a tree. It made direct impact with my driver door and sent everyone into a state of unconsciousness. The property owners, who the tree belonged to, came outside and helped get my 3 friends out of the car. When it came to moving me, they decided to wait for help. By an act of God, none of my other 3 passengers sustained any physical injuries but I’m sure it’s something they’ll never forget and I’m just very thankful that they were all okay.
4 days later I woke up in a bed at a hospital in PA with tubes going everywhere, my legs in the air with external frames so they couldn’t move and my mother looked like Oprah Winfrey. So yeah, I had a lot of questions. Like why isn’t my hand moving? I had sustained many injuries:
-broken left tibia
-broken left femur (2places)
-broken right femur (1 place)
-open book fracture to pelvic bone (7places)
-3rd degree burns to my right hand (required skin graphs’)
-lacerated small intestine (8” had to be removed)
-brachial plexus to right arm
The brachial plexus is the only thing that lingered. Everything else was able to be healed through 2 months of intense PT and lots of retraining. For anyone reading who is unfamiliar with a brachial plexus injury, it is when the nerves are pulled from your spine disconnecting it to the brain stem taking away mobility to whatever those nerves control. The nerves I tore from my spine just happened to operate my right arm & hand leaving it useless & numb.
After 4 months of follow up visits and no real tests taken, my neurosurgeon in PA finally decides to tell me she’s not willing to operate on me. “The damage is too severe”, she said. Then she recommended removing my entire arm. Well that’s just not a good enough for me. So I left.
I began my own research and found Dr. Wolfe at Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, NY. After hearing about my case Dr. Wolfe hit the ground running and knew exactly what had to be done. He ran several tests on my nerves to find out what I have left to work with, so he could really understand the severity. By mid-December 2011, so about 6 months post car accident, Dr. Wolfe is ready and performs surgery. He took some nerves from my left calf and transplanted them into my right intercostal (upper-rib area).
Once I woke up from the 12 hour procedure is when the real work began, training my nerves to understand they are no longer in my leg and now operate my arm. Lots & lots of cardio & weightlifting, really working out my lungs because that’s what triggers your intercostal nerves the most.
To keep everything in perspective, during all of this I have to go back to the drawing board on my entire life plan because 1.) Navy won’t accept people with metal rods in their legs and a hand that doesn’t work 2.) pretty sure you need 2 hands to be a welder (Trust me, I know I could have if I wanted to enough, but ya gotta weigh the pros and cons) and graduation is around the corner. So, when I spent time thinking about what I like to do & what drives me, I thought, “I like to design things and see other people use the designs I made” but I can’t do the physical labor aspect to those designs anymore and that’s when Architecture caught my eye. I can still design things… buildings, bridges, tunnels etc. … but I wouldn’t be performing the physical labor anymore, I would sit behind a computer screen and strictly design them instead.
Architecture is the new one-handed plan man. I graduate high school on time with the rest of my class. After graduation I took an AutoCAD course to get certified in the software. Also, to test the waters and make sure I’m ready to go all in on Architecture as a career and get a degree. It got a big green light after I was able to compare it to a video game. After losing mobility in my right hand I was pretty upset I couldn’t play video games anymore, so this was a great way to supplement that.
I graduated college in 2015 from Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology with my Associates degree and Architecture as my major and I did it with only 1 hand, as my right hand just dangled in my way the whole time. After graduation I held 2 shorts job with different companies. During this time is when I made the conscious decision to amputate my right hand. It wasn’t something I decided on over-night. I contemplated this for a long time before telling my family. I wanted to make sure I presented it correctly. Trying to explain to your loved ones who have 2 working hands that I want to remove one of mine is a difficult thing and I wanted to make sure they understood this is a rational decision. I had graduated college and got a full-time job. I also learned how to do everything else in my daily life with the 1 hand I have left. But was sick & tired of lugging around a hand that didn’t work. It became more of a burden than anything. Having to make sure it was in a good position every night I went to sleep, being conscious 24/7 that it was okay became exhausting.
My family was supportive of the decision and in December of 2015 I contacted Dr. Wolfe. I let him know how appreciative I am of the work he had done. Dr. Wolfe performing the nerve transplant back in 2011 is the only reason I have my shoulder & elbow today. I let him know I have 1 more procedure id like him to perform and that was to amputate what wasn’t working, my hand and wrist. I explained to him the same way I did to my family and he kindly agreed. I remember he was actually quite happy and proud I was able to make the decision on my own. I can imagine that being hard for a doctor to have to sit down with a patient and say “hey I think amputation may be our best bet here” so I am just beyond appreciative that he actually took the tests necessary and did the research and the work to perform that nerve transplant and give me my shoulder & elbow back.
February 12th, 2016, Dr. Wolfe amputated my hand and wrist. I woke up with an immediate sense of pressure lifted. My hand no longer dangled in the way. I could use my shoulder and elbow with a much greater range of motion without the added weight of my hand. I was able to get back on a rugby field and run around with my old team again. The quality of my life has improved in ways that I cannot describe since becoming Dr. Wolfes patient. Between him performing the nerve transplant, getting motion in my shoulder & elbow, and being able to make the decision of only amputating my hand rather than my entire arm, I owe Dr. Wolfe more than I will ever be able to repay him.
Today, January 1st, 2019, I am 25, I work for Microdesk as an MEP Consultant. I live in Laguna Beach, CA and I work from home. From June through September I will be traveling abroad in Croatia, Spain, Portugal & South Africa while working remotely to maintain my job.
If there is anything people can learn from my story, it is the power of Hope. That when one doctor tells you something you cannot believe, to trust that gut feeling and to keep fighting and to keep looking for a doctor who will fight for you and help you push through what you think is impossible.
Most importantly I hope that my readers can learn the strength of Gods will. That even if you are 18, think you know everything and have your entire life planned, when something unimaginable happens and resets you back to Zero, its not the worst thing. In fact, if you play your cards right & rely on Gods will, you’d be surprised as to what He has planned, because its much better than anything we can draw up.
Special thanks to my entire family for their help & support throughout this journey. When something like this happens, its important you have a strong support system around you. They played a huge role in my success and I wouldn’t be here without their advice, love & understanding.
If there are any questions you have about my story or advice you think I could provide from my experience, please feel free to email me at Ryan.Mitchell.Brady15@gmail.com or DM me on Instagram @Ryan.Mitchell.Brady … I'm a little faster with Instagram as a heads up!
“It’s not What you go through, it’s How you go through it”