GMG - Las Vegas Weekly

November 7, 2013

Las Vegas Weekly

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WEEKLY Q&A of that very first flu symptom I had at work, I was in the hospital on life support. I was given less than a 2 percent chance of living. I was put into an induced coma. They didn't think I'd make it through the night. Did the doctors know what was wrong? They had no idea what I had. I was in severe kidney failure when I entered the hospital. My white blood count was through the roof, so they knew I had a blood infection, they just didn't know what it was. It took five days to figure out that it was bacterial meningitis, because that's how long it takes the culture to process, so they kind of just supported me. Over the course of three months or so I ended up losing my spleen, I lost all of my kidney function, I lost both of my legs below the knees. That was from going into septic shock, since your body pulls blood from your extremities to save your organs. > BATTLING BACK Snowboarder Amy Purdy will represent the U.S. in the Sochi Paralympics. BACK ON BOARD PHOTO BY MITCHELL HAASETH/NBC Las Vegan AMY PURDY helped bring snowboarding to the Paralympics "Every time you're sick, you feel like you want to die, and that's how I felt: 'Oh my God, I feel like I'm dying.' But in your right mind, you're really not thinking, 'Oh, I'm dying.'" This is how Amy Purdy describes the sensation of her body shutting down while her head said, "It's just the flu." She was 19, working as a massage therapist at Canyon Ranch SpaClub at the Venetian, when bacterial meningitis attacked her system, leaving her on life support just 24 hours after she'd first felt feverish and eventually claiming her spleen, kidney function and both legs below the knees. Some people would wake from that doctor-induced coma feeling sorry for themselves. Purdy asked when she could get back on her snowboard. In the 14 years since, the native Las Vegan has become an actress, speaker and professional boarder, partially responsible for adaptive snowboarding's inclusion in the 2014 Paralympic Games for the first time. We caught up with Purdy, who learned to snowboard at Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort, as she prepared for the Sochi Games. Let's go back to the day you contracted bacterial meningitis. Did you know immediately how serious it was? The day I got sick started just like any other day. I woke up feeling great, like I had energy and was ready to go to work. Typically at work I could do five to seven back-toback massages without being tired and still go to the gym afterwards and have plenty of energy. But this day was pretty different; after my third massage I was exhausted. … I went home from work early, and that night I had a temperature of 101 and typical flu-like symptoms. The next morning my temperature broke, but instead of feeling better, I started to just feel worse. It's hard to explain, but nothing's really telling you that this is anything different than the flu. Within 24 hours When you found out you were losing your legs below the knee, did you think about whether you'd snowboard again? That was the first thought that I had when I woke up from the coma. I'm really grateful that I had snowboarding, because I always say snowboarding saved my life. It's what I had to work toward and what kept me moving forward. All I knew was that I wasn't going to look back. This was the situation: I'm 19 years old; I now don't have legs, but I want to snowboard. I didn't know how, I just knew I would do it again from the minute I woke up from that coma. What was the process of getting back on the board? It was a challenge. I got back up on the snowboard about seven months after the whole ordeal started, but I was still very sick. I was 83 pounds; I was in full kidney failure; I was on dialysis. But I'd never missed a season of snowboarding, and I didn't want to miss a season of snowboarding then. It felt completely different than I ever could've imagined. My ankles didn't bend because prosthetic ankles don't have movement in them. My knees wouldn't bend. I just remember feeling like this stick man riding down the mountain, like my body just wasn't doing what I wanted it to do. It was incredibly discouraging, but it was also really motivating, because I just thought, "What do I need to do to make this work for me?" How did you make it work? I ended up Frankensteining a pair of feet where I took different ankles and added them to different feet and wood and duct tape and whatever I could use, and to tell you the truth, it's not that far off. There still are not any feet on the market for snowboarding. I'm working with some companies on that, but it's going to be a process. It's going to take time to really perfect the snowboard foot. Have you connected with other adaptive snowboarders? I started a nonprofit organization with my boyfriend, Daniel Gale, called Adaptive Action Sports. At the time, there were just zero resources for people like myself who had prosthetic legs and wanted to snowboard. So we decided to create an organization and started putting on camps for youth and young adults and wounded vets with disabilities. One of our main goals was to get snowboarding into the Paralympic Games, so our organization had a significant piece in getting it there, which is great. What does the field look like for Sochi? My biggest competitor is Vivian Natel. She's from the Netherlands, and she is one of my closest friends. She was a pro rider for years before she lost her leg. She and I have known each other for so many years and pushed so hard to get snowboarding into the Paralympics, we're like a team on that. It's funny because she's my biggest competitor, but she's also the first person I'll be celebrating with in Sochi. –Sarah Feldberg For more of our interview with Purdy, visit NOVEMBER 7–13, 2013 LASVEGASWEEKLY.COM 13_Q&A_20131107.indd 13 13 11/6/13 1:20 PM

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