Old City resident Rebecca Levenberg lost her leg in a bike accident. But since learning to rollerblade, rock climb and, yes, bicycle in a prosthesis, she hasn’t looked back. This is Rebecca’s story, in her own words.
I’d been a bike commuter for about five years when, in November 2010, a garbage truck hit me. I was riding my bike to work, in the bike lane.
I always knew there were risks. But you hear about cyclists getting hit by a door or breaking their wrist—not losing their legs.
The truck crushed my left leg completely. I sustained severe internal injuries, broken ribs and a fractured pelvis. I was wearing a helmet, and I didn’t have head injuries. The doctors at Jefferson had to amputate my leg to save my life. In total, I’ve had 15 surgeries since the accident.
I remember the accident vividly. I had a lot of mental and emotional trauma afterward; I would picture it over and over. A psychologist at Magee Rehab worked with me to help me overcome my fears so I could live my life again.
I started prosthetic training as an above-the-knee amputee, and took my first steps in February 2011. But I needed a goal I could measure. So I decided to walk a thousand miles, which I finally accomplished in March 2013. Now I’m at nearly 2,000.
My prosthetists have been fearless. I think one of the most important factors in my recovery has been that no one ever told me there’s something I can’t do. “Can’t” wasn’t in anyone’s vocabulary.
I had more than a year of outpatient care. My PTs taught me how to walk, of course, but they went beyond that: They taught me to ride my bike again, to rollerblade again, and they came and cheered me on when I decided to start rock climbing. I now have an in-line skating setting for my leg, and a swim leg, which is waterproof. I climbed trails on the Shawangunk Mountains in New York with other adaptive climbers. I like rock climbing because I can meet the same challenges as someone with two legs.
For each anniversary of my accident, I try to do something special. It makes me feel lucky for every healthy day that I have. For the first, I walked a mile around Jefferson Hospital’s campus.
On the second, we took 500 kids from the school where I taught, plus chaperones, on a walk to the Art Museum. At the start of the school year, I spoke to students about wearing a helmet. One of the first-graders said afterward, “It’s important because you can get a robot leg, but you can’t get a robot brain.”
On the third anniversary, I hiked Ricketts Glen State Park.
It was a steep climb, and I wanted to give up. My friend said, “Imagine where you were three years ago.” “Okay,” I said, “I’ll keep going.”
This article first appeared in the 2014 Be Well Philly print magazine.
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