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Motivational speaker rides on despite amputations

Amputation

Every day is sunny in Steve Martinez’ world.  And he says the serious health crisis he endured four years ago only confirmed how blessed he is.

The self-described “Hispanic macho man” had a busy career as a manager for Dillon Food Stores in Wichita. When he wasn’t working, he enjoyed lifting weights, playing softball and riding horses on his ranch just outside of Harper, about an hour southwest of Wichita.

Then everything changed.

One day, he became wracked with violent, shaking chills. He thought it was the flu. Instead, it was a serious e coli infection. Before the day was over, he was hospitalized, comatose and fighting for his life.           

He doesn’t recall much of what happened during the next two weeks. His fever rose dangerously high while his blood pressure plummeted. A ventilator helped him breathe and dialysis took over for his failing kidneys. His circulation was so poor that his hands, feet, nose and ears blistered and began turning black.

Twice during the next few days doctors warned Steve’s wife, Linda, that he wouldn’t survive. If he did, they said, he’d face multiple amputations and suffer serious brain damage. But, she, her family and church friends responded with “lots of prayer” — and received a miracle, she says.

Almost immediately Steve began to improve and six days later it began to look like he would survive. But, he wasn’t out of danger. While his heart, lungs and kidneys grew stronger, the dying tissue on his hands and feet was poisoning his body. He needed to be transferred to the Regional Burn Center at Via Christi Hospital St. Francis for skin grafts to cover his open sores. To save his life, doctors had to amputate both legs below the knee, three fingers on his right hand, and the thumb on his other.

When he awoke from his coma, Steve understood the difficult recovery ahead. Still, he was grateful just to be alive.

“I got a second chance at life,” says Steve. “Not many people get that, and I was determined to make the most of it.”

Steve’s recovery continued to amaze his caregivers. He moved to Via Christi Rehabilitation Hospital soon after his surgery, learning to balance and walk on two prosthetic legs, transfer from a wheelchair to bed, feed himself, comb his hair and even type with four fewer fingers.

“Steve impressed me so much with his optimism, his great sense of humor, and by refusing to look at this as a ‘disability,’” said his physical therapist, Waneta Yoder. “We worked with him Monday through Friday, but he would insist on continuing therapy on his own on the weekends, pushing himself to do more all the time.”

“Graduation” consisted of a few days in the onsite transitional-living apartment at the Rehabilitation Hospital, where he could test his new-found life skills without staff assistance, prior to going home.

Steve credits his therapists with driving his recovery — and for reinforcing his positive outlook on life.

“You could tell they genuinely cared about us as people, not just as patients,” says Steve. “When you were at your lowest, they were at their best, praising our successes and cheering us on to do more. They made therapy fun, and that made me want to get better even faster!”

His therapists also provided sage advice for the couple.

“They were very kind, and honest but supportive,” says Linda. “They told us, ‘Your lives will no longer exist the way they were, so don’t try to get that back. What we’re trying to do is make it better – and the only limitations are the ones you set yourselves.’”

Steve returned to work in just five months — less than half the typical recovery time for his sort of amputations. But soon afterward, he felt inspired to a new calling:  sharing with others how his experience changed him for the better, and how having a positive outlook on life could be a blessing to them, as well.

Today, he is a motivational speaker, addressing business, church and school groups across the country.

“I ask my audiences, ‘When was the last time you celebrated brushing your teeth or tying your shoe?’” says Steve. “Now, I thank God every day for being able to do that. I lost fingers and my legs, but I’ve found a new appreciation for the greatest gift God has for us: Life.”

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