Imagine someone telling you that you only had two hours to live.
Imagine that person was a doctor, who also said if he was wrong – although he was more than 98-per-cent certain he was right – that you could go on living, only he’d have to cut off both your legs, remove both kidneys, your spleen and leave you deaf in one ear.
Now imagine spending the next 2 1/2 months in and out of consciousness fighting for your life, spending $30,000 on new legs, filming a music video with Madonna, and becoming the one of the highest ranked para-snowboarders in the world.
Amy Purdy doesn’t have to imagine.
“I feel incredibly lucky,” the 32-year-old Las Vegas native says of her new reality. “Even when I woke up from the coma that I was in and I realized all that I had gone through, at that very moment I felt incredibly grateful to be alive and to have pulled out of it and to have a second chance at life.”
Thirteen years ago, Purdy left her work as a massage therapist feeling the onset of what she thought was flu. Within 24 hours she was in hospital, on life support. A week later, she was diagnosed with meningococcal meningitis.
The lack of circulation at the start of her ordeal meant the doctors had to amputate both legs below the knee, and with every organ failing except for her heart and brain, she ultimately needed a kidney transplant (donated by her father a week before her 21st birthday).
She has since dedicated her life to warning people about the dangers of meningitis, and is currently touring across Canada to coincide with Tuesday’s World Meningitis Day. She urges Canadians to sit up and take notice – a recent survey suggested 30 per cent of the populace would also just assume their symptoms were reflective of flu – especially knowing now that her entire ordeal could have been avoided.
“I wouldn’t change my life at all, where I’m at today,” the world’s first double-leg amputee competitive para-snowboarder says, “but it’s frustrating that a simple vaccination, if we had known, could have prevented a lot that I’ve gone through.”
Purdy, who now lives with her boyfriend in Crested Butte, Colo., refuses to dwell on what could have been and is busy travelling the globe with her snowboard in tow, winning three gold medals in World Cup events earlier this year, before taking the silver in February’s snowboard-cross world championships in France.
And when she isn’t doing that, she’s equally busy helping to run Adaptive Action Sport, a non-profit organization she founded with her boyfriend in 2005, to get disabled youth, young adults and armed forces veterans into action sports. But her biggest challenge still remains: Purdy is championing her event’s case for inclusion in a rather well-known quadrennial sporting showcase.
“We were hoping it would be in the 2014 Paralympics, but as far as we know Russia didn’t have their own team so they pretty much chose at the last minute to not have para-snowboarding as part of the Paralympics,” she says of the Sochi Games. “Whereas now every nation is working very hard to develop their teams so we can make sure it’s in the 2018 Paralympics.”
While that dream remains a maybe, another was realized, in part thanks to her artificial limbs.
“Before I lost my legs I actually wanted to move to Los Angeles and become an actress,” Purdy admits. “But after losing my legs and realizing that I could still follow my dreams that motivated me even more, you know.”
That motivation drove her to make her feature film debut seven years ago, but it also allowed her to cross paths with the Material Girl a couple of years prior to that when she featured in a military-themed fashion show in the video for American Life. But you won’t find it on YouTube.com.
“Unfortunately, that video didn’t air,” Purdy explains. “It was actually supposed to air at exactly the same time as [then-U.S. president George]Bush declared war after 9/11. It literally happened the same day. There was supposed to be this big world premiere and then Bush declared war and Madonna pulled it.
“I was kind of a featured person in the film, I was a runway model and kind of a fem-bot with these robotic legs and at the last moment they felt that it could be a little too touchy with all of the people coming back from war now with prosthetics, so she decided to shelve it. But it definitely sparked my interest in entertainment and art as far as using my legs to getting messages across.”