Mike Garone: Standing Up to Every Challenge

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By Brady Delander
Photographs courtesy of the Garone family.

New York teen keeps pushing his pace- and his limits-a year after losing his leg.

Mike Garone's thrills come in many forms. He is the unique sort of young man who enjoys equally the sports of bass fishing and motocross-not exactly a natural coupling-along with a lot of other things that require a competitive edge.

Little more than one year ago, Garone was in West Virginia running practice laps on his Yamaha YZ250 dirt bike. He opened the throttle a bit more and launched a bit higher with each pass. A motocross rider since age three, he had advanced quickly and entered more challenging and demanding races as the years went on.

He lifted off one of the biggest jumps on the practice track and knew he was in trouble before landing. A Bobcat skid steer-used to level and shape dirt tracks-was crossing the track below. Garone landed hard in the bucket of the Bobcat, his body taking a massive and traumatic blow.

Garone takes a few steps while Erik Tompkins, CP, BOCPO, programs his C-Leg.

It was July 11, 2008, and Garone-now 17-says he remembers every moment.

He was covered in blood, his right leg was severed above the knee, and his jaw was broken in three places. All of his top teeth were gone. He was scheduled to head home to New York the next day, but those plans had changed in an instant. And one thought, more than any other, filled his head as he lay there.

"I got really mad at first," Garone says. "I'd just gotten my braces taken off and here I had knocked out all my teeth."

No Time to Slow Down

Garone was born in Clintondale, New York, about 80 miles north of Manhattan. Everyone around him talks about his determined attitude and positive, can-do approach to life. That spirit is what drives him to fish and hunt, water ski, jet ski, play baseball and hockey, or just about anything else that presents a challenge.

That also is what led Garone to stare down the difficulties of adapting to a transfemoral prosthesis and finding a way to get moving again.

"Put it this way," says Garone, with a hint of a New England accent. "The day after I got my first leg, I went to the Adirondacks for the opening day of bow [hunting] season. I walked up to my stand with a pair of crutches, I got up into my stand, and I shot a six-pointer [deer]."

Garone's parents, Mike Sr. and Cathy, aren't into hunting themselves, but his father was certainly impressed when he watched his son climb 20 feet straight up to the stand.

"He asked the doctors in the hospital if he could hunt, and they told him, 'Maybe one day, Michael,'" Garone Sr. recalls. "But I'm telling you, when I got this kid home from the hospital he said, 'Put my tree stand up in back so I can practice.' This kid climbed that tree stand with one leg."

From a very young age, it was apparent that nothing would stop Garone from doing the things he loves. He ended up in West Virginia last summer because he wanted to get better at motocross, a sport in which he was already accomplished. A friend had invited him to spend some time on the practice track, and everything was going as planned until the Bobcat crossed Garone's path.

Express Road to Recovery

Garone takes aim with his bow.

Garone was all too lucid after the accident. As he sat in the bucket of the Bobcat, he says he felt the first pangs of anxiety and fear when he saw all of his own blood. In addition to all the other damage, he lost seven pints of blood-roughly half of what was in his body.

"I got real nervous once I saw how much I was bleeding," Garone says. "I didn't have any pain in my leg because I had severed everything. I couldn't feel it."

Garone tried to stay as calm as possible until the emergency helicopter arrived to lift him back to the hospital in Charleston, West Virginia. He spoke with the medical staff onboard, who reassured him he would be all right, before landing and being wheeled into the hospital.

"They asked me a couple of questions about what happened. And the next thing you know, that was it. They knocked me out, and I had surgery," he says.

Garone endured five surgeries to repair the damage to his leg and jaw. "I'm lucky I didn't have severe head trauma," he says. He wasn't able to move either of his arms for nearly a month, though he has full movement and feeling now.

Doctors estimated that Garone would spend about two months in the hospital recovering. It only took two weeks.

"He's really a remarkable child," Cathy says. "There are things that are difficult, but he always finds a way. He's an inspiration to all of us."

Adjusting to New Legs

Garone's first prosthesis was a Total Knee by Ossur, Aliso Viejo, California, which was donated by Shriners. It only took about a week for him to find enough comfort and security to walk freely on his own.

"It was hard at first to get used to it-weird, different," Garone says of the knee's locking mechanism, which provides support during stance phase. He says it was fairly easy to learn how to get the lock to release while following through with the step and rolling over the toe.

Once it was clear that Garone had mastered the Total Knee, it was time to move on to something more rugged; a limb that could survive the daily toll of his hobbies such as jet skiing. So he started using a Mauch Knee, also from Ossur, that allowed him to do just about anything.

"It can handle a lot," Garone says of the hydraulic knee. "It can get wet, and I can use it when I go waterskiing or stuff like that."

Working with Erik Tompkins, CP, BOCPO, of M&M Prosthetic Associates, Poughkeepsie, New York, Garone eventually started using what he calls "the best leg ever"-a C-Leg from Otto Bock, Minneapolis, Minnesota. The leg was donated by a friend of a family friend, and Garone uses it as much as possible.

"If prostheses were like cars, the C-Leg would be like the fastest, nicest car," Garone says.

A little more than a year after losing his leg, Garone does pretty much what he was doing before he lost his leg-fishing as much as possible. He signed a three-year contract with Skeeter Boats and plans to fish bass professionally once he graduates from high school.

Much of this past summer was spent with his fishing partner, Michael Pikulinski, also 17, and the boys revel in the fact that they are taking on-and beating-professional fishermen twice and even three times their age.

"We try to have some laughs out there, but we're serious when we need to be," Pikulinski says. "The older guys look at us like, 'What are they doing out here?'"

There is little doubt that Garone will end up doing whatever it is that he wants.

"He can ride a unicycle," Tompkins says. "That says it all."

Brady Delander is a freelance writer based in Denver, Colorado.