Losing A Leg, But Gaining A Sense Of Purpose

Apr 19, 2013
Originally published on April 19, 2013 9:30 pm

In 1987, Jack Richmond was driving a forklift at work when the vehicle overturned onto him, crushing his leg below the knee. His daughter, Reagan, was just 2 months old at the time.

"Initially when they told me I would lose my leg, I was in denial and disbelief and kind of like, 'What, why? Can't you fix it?' " Jack tells Reagan in a visit to StoryCorps in Knoxville, Tenn. "But it just couldn't be saved."

"And you had a brand new daughter — me," says Reagan, now 25. "What were you thinking?"

"I thought about you a lot," Jack says. "Sometimes I worried about how you would feel growing up with a father who had an artificial leg."

"I always thought it was pretty cool," she says. "I didn't really know any different."

Having a young family motivated him to "get up and get going," says Jack, now 57. Two months after the accident, he went back to the hospital. "I said, well, you know, 'I want to talk to other amputees and tell them it'll be OK.' And they said, 'Well ... that's a nice idea and we appreciate it but, you know, you're really not trained as a counselor or anything like that and we can't just let you come in and just talk to patients,' " Jack recalls.

But as he was leaving the hospital, the chaplain, who remembered Jack, approached him to ask why he was visiting. When Jack told him his idea, the chaplain asked him to come back on Saturday.

"And I said, 'OK,' not knowing really what was gonna happen," Jack says. "He trained me as a volunteer chaplain and he gave me a badge and said, 'Now you can go talk to everyone in the hospital.' "

Jack remembers a young patient who, like Jack, had lost his leg below the knee. "I came in and just started talking to him and said, 'You're gonna get through this. You're gonna survive.' And he just started turning red in the face. He says, 'Look, I'm tired of you people coming in here and telling me that I'm gonna be OK.' "

That's when Jack realized he was wearing long pants. The young man had no idea he was an amputee. "So I put my leg over on the side of his bed, pulled my pants leg up and I said, 'About two years ago, I was in a room across the hall.'

"He didn't say anything else, but the tears just started rolling down his face. And he thanked me and I left."

Jack became a marathon runner after losing his leg. He ran the Boston Marathon in 2001. Now, he works for a company that designs and tests prosthetic limbs.

"My whole life growing up, I saw you always helping other people," Reagan says. "I know that you're not very boastful about it, but I guess it's really taught me a lot. So, thank you."

"You know, you are truly blessed when God gives you the opportunity to help someone else," Jack says. "That's our purpose in life."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Friday is when we hear from StoryCorps, which collects interviews between everyday people. People interview loved ones. And today, we hear from Jack Richmond, who works for a company that designs and tests prosthetic limbs. Jack is an amputee himself. He lost his leg in 1987 and his story comes to mind during this week when many people lost limbs at the Boston Marathon.

At StoryCorps in Knoxville, Jack told his daughter Reagan how he lost his leg.

JACK RICHMOND: When you were two months old, I had a pretty severe accident at work. The forklift that I was driving turned over on me and crushed my leg below the knee. And initially when they told me I would lose my leg, I was in denial and disbelief and kind of like, what, why? Can't you fix it? But it just couldn't be saved.

REAGAN RICHMOND: And you had a brand new daughter, me. What were you thinking?

J. RICHMOND: I thought about you a lot. Sometimes I worried about how you would feel growing up with a father who had an artificial leg or whatever, so.

R. RICHMOND: I always thought it was pretty cool. I didn't really know any different.

J. RICHMOND: You know, I had a young family and in a lot of ways it motivated me to get up and to get going. Two months after my accident, I went back to the hospital. And I said, I want to talk to other amputees and tell them it'll be OK. And they said, well, that's a nice idea, but, you know, you're really not trained as a counselor or anything like that and we can't just let you come in and just talk to patients.

And as I was leaving the hospital, the chaplain saw me and remembered me, and ask me what I was doing there. He said, well, can you come back on Saturday? And I said, okay, not knowing really what was going to happen. He trained me as a volunteer chaplain, gave me a badge and said, now you can go talk to everyone in the hospital.

And I remember one young man that lost his leg below the knee very similar to me. I came in and I just started talking to him and said, you know, you're going to get through this. You're going to survive. And he just started turning red in the face. He says, look, I'm tired of you people coming in here and telling me that I'm going to be OK.

Then it was like, I realized I was wearing long pants. He had no idea that I was an amputee. So I put my leg over on the side of his bed, pulled my pants leg up and I said, about two years ago, I was in a room across the hall. He didn't say anything else, but the tears just started rolling down his face. And he thanked me and I left.

R. RICHMOND: My whole life, growing up, I saw you always helping other people. I know that you're not very boastful about it, but I guess it's really taught me a lot. So, thank you.

J. RICHMOND: You know, you are truly blessed when God gives you the opportunity to help someone else. That's our purpose in life.

INSKEEP: Jack Richmond with his daughter Reagan at StoryCorps in Knoxville. Now after losing his leg, he became a marathon runner and ran the Boston Marathon in 2001. This interview will be archived at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. Podcast is at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.