Richie DrewRichie Drew was just 13 months old when a tragic accident changed his life forever. He and his brother were playing around the house when they happened to pass by the bathroom and noticed that the tub was being filled with water. Thinking it was meant for their bath, Richie’s older brother lifted him into the tub. But the tub was filled with bleach and hot water his mother was planning to soak clothes in! The bleach immediately began to eat away at Richie’s skin. Although he was rushed to the hospital, the damage was already severe. A week later gangrene set in and the doctors were forced to amputate his entire right leg, most of his left leg, and the fingers on his right hand. They did manage to save most of his left hand. He also suffered 3rd degree burns on 90% of his body. It was the worst case the doctors had ever seen, and for four years, the burn ward of NYU hospital was his home. Richie returned home to live with his family on his 5th birthday.
"I received my first pair of legs at the age of two," recalled Richie. "I remember because they were very heavy. They were made out of solid wood and metal. They weren’t very comfortable or functional. I used crutches and would swing them forward. As I grew up, I always wore long pants - even in the summer - so the other kids wouldn’t know I was missing my legs. I just wanted to fit in. They already treated me differently because of my missing fingers and strange way of walking. I told them I used crutches because I had an accident and my legs got screwed up. I was terrified to go to school without my legs because I thought the kids would be scared of me or make even more fun of me and I didn't want to deal with either of those options. Most kids thought I had some strange disease, so I just never said anything different. Up until 5th grade, no one knew. Even the teachers thought the same things that the kids did. I felt like I was keeping a terrible secret. It was very stressful."
But eventually, Richie's secret came out. "When I was 12-years-old my prosthetic legs were hurting me and I needed to have another pair made. It would take two weeks to make them, and my mom wouldn’t let me miss any school. I had to face the shocked faces and nasty comments. It was as bad as I had imagined, but at least everyone knew, and I didn’t have to keep my secret any longer."
Using a wheelchair limited the amount of things Richie was able to do; he couldn't keep up with his brother and sister when playing outside. His mom came up with a great idea – she bought him a skateboard! "I wiped out a few times," remembered Richie, “but as soon as I figured out how to keep my balance it was like a whole new world opened up for me! I could ride it super fast! The kids thought it was cool.” From that point on, the skateboard was Richie’s main mode of transportation. The prosthetic legs stayed in the closet; he was more independent without them.
Richie continued on to college and although he adapted very well to campus life, he did experience discrimination when applying for part-time jobs. At a gas station he was told that they weren’t hiring, even though a “help wanted” sign was posted. He went back to the gas station a few days later wearing his prosthetic legs and using crutches and was hired by the same person who wouldn’t look him in the eye a few days before! Richie went on to become employee of the month and won the praise of his supervisors. But it bothered him that a person on a skateboard (or a wheelchair) was looked at as less able to perform a “sit down” job than someone standing on legs – with crutches!
A few years later, Richie was working as a manager at a home improvement store when one of POA’s patients approached him. She explained that she was also an amputee, and they began to swap stories and share information. She gave Richie the name of her prosthetist, Stan Patterson, and told him that if he was ever interested in trying to walk again, Stan would be the one who could help him. Richie called Stan, and he was fit for the first time with legs he could wear comfortably.
Recent improvements in prosthetic components such as dynamic feet and microprocessor knees have made it possible for Richie to walk more independently, with just the use of a cane. He relocated from New York to Orlando so that he could commit himself to working with POA to develop the strength to walk greater distances without assistance.
“I always believed that one day I would walk without my cane or crutches, and now it’s becoming a reality! Stan has always been passionate about what he does, and I believe if anyone is going to help me achieve my goal of independent walking, he is,” said Richie.
For new amputees, or those who are struggling, Richie would like to share something his dad told him when he was a young boy. “It does not take two legs or two arms to make a person a success in life, it takes heart and passion. If you always try, no matter what the odds are, you will never be a failure and you will never have regrets – ever!” At age 42, Richie continues to try to beat the odds, and is always up for the next challenge.
As of this writing, It's been about a year since Richie moved from New York to Orlando to begin his new life. His outgoing personality helped land him a job at "the happiest place on earth" - Disney World! He's not even been there a year and has already received a promotion. We're blessed to have Richie as a member of our POA family.