A Perfect Summer Day's Tragedy
It was the first day of summer after the end of first grade. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and the neighborhood kids were playing. We lived in a small, quiet town. My best friend was also my neighbor, and we were excited to spend the day playing with our Barbie dolls. “I will be right back,” I told my friend. “I need to bring a few more dolls.” I hopped on my bike to go home and get the special dolls. This is the moment my life changed.
At the very same time I was riding home, a young man of only 18 years of age, was driving a truck. This was his summer job. He did not see me. I did not see him. In an instant, our lives were completely altered.
As I lay on the ground after being struck by the vehicle, that young man stood on the corner retching. My friend's parents came to be by my side as they called 911. At the same time and riding his own bike, my brother who was only a little over a year older than me saw that an accident had happened so close to his home. He quickly came to see what had occurred and could not believe his eyes. He was only seven years old. That day, life changed for him as well.
My name is Leslie Pitt. This is my Kintsugi story.
My brother ran home. “Ma, Ma… Leslie got hit by a truck!” My mother was on the phone, working on a fundraiser. She didn’t pay much attention and dismissed his words. He insisted, and she ran to the scene of the accident. My mom held me, talked to me, and was there for me until the police came. Two police officers were the first on the scene. They tied a tourniquet around my legs. There is no question that they saved my life. For that, I am forever grateful. My next memory was waking on the hospital bed surrounded by my parents and grandparents.
Words No Mother Should Have to Say
It was time for a serious conversation. My mother needed to tell me that my leg was amputated to save my life. Unfortunately, it would not grow back. I believe that it was tougher for her to say than it was for me to hear. I was only six years old. I had no concept as to how this would really affect my life. I accepted the words and asked, “When do I get to walk out of here?"
I spent the summer in the hospital recovering, learning how to walk, and getting stronger. Eventually, I indeed walked out of the hospital, on a prosthetic leg, just in time for second grade. My classmates received me with open, welcoming arms. They knew what had happened and helped me in any way I needed. Overall, I was treated the same. No one made fun of me. I did have to get used to certain changes, as I couldn’t sit on the floor cross-legged and other adjustments would have to be made.
Still, I was happy. I knew one thing. I was the same Lesley as I was before and that was the best part of me.
My Parents' Encouragement
My parents made a decision early on that would shape the rest of my life. They decided that they would treat me the same, push me to be active and play like other children. They would not treat me differently and make excuses for me. They would not overprotect me despite that being their first instinct. So, they immediately enrolled me in dance lessons followed by sports. There was no way I would sit on the sidelines and have my life pass me by. So, with much determination and necessary accommodations, I lived fully. I danced. I biked again and so much more. The Schwinn Bicycle Company gave me a new bike since mine had been destroyed in the accident. My father built something, a modification for the bike, so I could ride it with my prosthetic leg. In those days, there was nothing readily available on the market to adapt to a bike. But that did not stop my father. He figured out, and so did I.
Those days were different days--simpler in so many ways and maybe too simple in others. If a situation like this takes place today, there would be a plethora of psychologists helping students, as well as my parents and my brother. Things were different back then. I know this accident impacted my brother, who was so young and saw something so horrific. My parents were impacted, too. They had their daughter so badly hurt which is not easy to witness. At the same time, during those days there was no social media. The pressures young women have today to be so “perfect” did not exist then.
Strength & Accomplishment
Thankfully, high school went on well. I was able to make good friends and we shared similar values and interests. I was busy with good things. I went to college and was very involved in skiing. I met my husband on a ski lift. He knew I had one leg because I was not wearing my prosthetic leg when we met. I was a very good skier, so much so that I was the first skier to get a corporate sponsorship in competitive skiing for people with disabilities. This was the very beginning of the Paralympics. I was the runner up and almost competed professionally in the Winter Olympics. I was off by .2 seconds but who is counting?
Since then, I have also written two books for children about limb loss. I have spoken publically around the country. I am on the board of a few charities and started an organization that sends prosthetic legs to under privileged kids in third world countries. My brother is also very involved in these organizations, as he was very affected by our story. In a very different way, this also happened to him.
The Gains of Loss
We all lose something on our journey. Some people lose their health. Some lose a family member, and some lose limbs. Unfortunately, people who lose limbs are portrayed by the media in an unrealistic way. The media makes us as homeless, losers or alternatively winners of the Olympics. Rarely, you will see a person with limb loss portrayed as a productive member of society: living a regular life, working, contributing and just doing life. This sensationalized portrayal is not helpful to those who suffer a limb loss. This message says, if they are not the one-in-a-million who is playing sports competitively, then they will end up without a future. That is not the case. I am an attorney. I am successful, and I have a wonderful life. We lost a limb, not our ability to be productive members of society.
I am grateful for losing my leg. Yes, you read that right! Not because I enjoy not having my leg but this loss took me on a path that otherwise I would have never travelled. I would have never skied competitively unless I was different and in shone in that category. I would probably not have had written books or gone around the country inspiring and helping people with limb loss. I was given an immense opportunity. For that, I am indeed grateful.
The Missing Piece
I believe that there is only one piece of the puzzle missing for me. I would love to meet the driver of the truck. I have no doubt that his life was affected by the accident as it affected me, my brother and my parents. Each person had to live with the consequences of that day. I would love very much to tell him that it's okay. I know it was not his fault. I am a happy, grateful, well-balanced person. I did not see what happened to me as the end of Lesley. It was quite the contrary. I saw it as the building of a much improved me.
I am not a victim. I don’t want to be seen as powerless. On the contrary, I feel empowered by the opportunities that came my way, and I want people to see me as the strong, vibrant and successful woman that I am.
You can learn more about Leslie here:
Tune in next week for the lessons I learnt from Lesley and please share your loving comments. We would love to hear from you.
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