MEND Stories of Healing and Courage: Sam Rossiello
MEND, 6 months ago
On his way from from work, Sam is in the unimaginable accident. His story and his journey to living fully again are nothing short of a miracle. Read his first hand account below and watch the podcast to hear more. Through sharing these types of stories we hope to inspire others who are facing difficult circumstances.
It was February 26th, 2016, a day that would change my life forever. I was on the way home from work on a Friday evening, and nearly lost my life in a traumatic accident, involving a subway train. All I remember is being stuck under that train for what seemed like forever while the first responders were on their way. I didn’t even feel it, nor did I lose consciousness. The adrenaline kicked in, and I just laid there wishing that I could just die instead. That night, I underwent several surgeries at the George Washington University hospital, including successful bi-lateral below-the-knee amputations.
A little bit about myself: I grew up on the north shore of Long Island, in a highly competitive school district. I was a determined student, always extremely hard on myself, and always strived to be a leader in whatever I did. I was a straight A student in high school, and I was the captain of both my varsity football team and baseball team. Going to an out-of-state college was an extremely difficult challenge for me. I didn’t know a soul when I arrived at the University of Virginia in the Fall of 2011. Soon thereafter, I began to feel homesick, and questioned whether I had made the right decision. Eventually, I hit a groove, met some incredible people, and felt like I had built a new home for myself. I was the president of my fraternity, a double major in engineering and economics, and became the president and co-founder of a volunteering organization on campus. After graduating in the Spring of 2015 with ‘high honors,’ I was determined to tackle the working world and make an impact. Little did I know that my life was about to come crumbling to the ground.
When a traumatic life-altering accident, such as the one I experienced, occurred, none of the many accolades I had received mattered anymore. These types of events are cruel. They don’t have any bias toward who you are, where you are from, or what you’ve done. I was shattered – a shell of myself. I was 23 years old, and all the milestones I aimed to achieve in my life had been ruined. What did I do to deserve this?
I don’t remember the first few days after the surgeries. I was in the Intensive Care Unit of the hospital, only just beginning to heal. My parents were actually on their way down from New York to visit me that weekend; they found out about the accident while in the car, somewhere between New York and DC. They were heartbroken. It must’ve been so difficult for them to see their only son hooked up to an IV and being given heavy doses of opioid pain medications. Supposedly, I was hallucinating due to the volume of medication being pumped into my blood. Nevertheless, they stayed as strong as two people could be for me. They never left my side during that eight week recovery in the hospital, nor have they wavered in their support in the four years since that nearly fatal day. They are the kindest, bravest, and most caring people that I will ever know, and I am eternally grateful for their continued support.
This recovery was going to be an uphill battle to say the least. Not only was the physical trauma more than enough to handle, but also for the first time in my life, I began to experience severe depression and anxiety. I had no idea how strong this experience would make me. It took an extremely talented team of medical professionals to help lift me from this bottomless pit I was in.
The trauma surgeon who performed the amputations coordinated the care I needed and stayed very involved throughout the healing process. She, an orthopedic surgeon, and a plastic surgeon performed many subsequent procedures to shape my amputated legs properly, doing everything they could do to preserve my knees. There were wound care professionals who worked with me daily to help promote healing of the injured sites. Occupational Therapists taught me how to navigate my way from a bed to a wheelchair, and to perform functional activities to regain my independence. Physical Therapists gave me an exercise regimen to help my muscles recover from the atrophy that resulted from the injuries. A Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist worked with me to help me heal from a psychological and emotional perspective.
And who could forget my new therapy dog friends and their wonderful owners who came to visit me every single day, rain or shine, to keep me company?! Perhaps most important, though, was a visit from a fellow amputee, a former veteran, who told me that he was running a marathon in his prosthesis. He truly inspired me, gave me confidence, told me that everything was going to be okay, and now, I was motivated!
After a long and grueling recovery in the hospital, we returned home to Long Island for further rehab, healing, and eventually gait training with my new prosthesis. My parents, my sister, and my friends were incredible. They kept me entertained, held me up when I didn’t believe in myself, and gave me a shoulder to cry on. I will never forget the outpouring of support from everyone, friends old and new, who helped build me back up to someone new, and surprisingly, someone better.
Of course, I had to live up to my stubborn, competitive nature. I worked out incessantly, began to do yoga, bike riding, boxing, cross-fit, you name it. As a matter of fact, I actually began to run. On November 5th, 2016, only eight and a half months since the accident, I ran a 5K in New York City. It was a special day for me, it was my grandmother’s birthday; we had lost her the year prior to various battles with cancer and dementia. I knew I had my own angel watching me that day, and I still do, every day. For the 5K, I raised over $10K for Achilles International, an organization that provides training, equipment, and support for adaptive athletes. Friends and family came in from out of town to watch me run, and many even ran right by my side.
Since the accident, I have developed a new perspective on life. The challenges of living with a disability won’t ever end, but I feel much more prepared to handle any curveball that life throws at me. From time-to-time, I deal with outbreaks of MRSA that can immobilize me for weeks at a time. I fall easily. I get pushed in crowds. I am often stared at, and even pointed at. For years, I was afraid that nobody would ever love someone like me, living with a disability. I am happy to report that I met the sweetest, kindest, most beautiful girl in the world – we’ve been dating for nearly a year, and she proved to me that love is out there for everyone, but first, that it is most important to love yourself. Turns out that what they say is true, it IS about what’s inside that really counts.
I don’t really know what life has in store for me, or where the tides may take me… I am passionate about many things. I want to make a difference in this world. I care about ending the stigma of mental illness in our society, especially in men. We are taught to be strong, stone-cold, and emotionless. Strength comes from within – it’s okay to cry sometimes, it’s okay to laugh, and it’s okay to love – they aren’t mutually exclusive. I care about making a difference in the lives of those who live with disabilities, especially those who don’t have a voice. The world is very difficult to navigate while in a wheelchair, in prosthesis, on crutches, etc. It is mentally, emotionally, and physically draining at times. I care about motivating people to be the best they can be. I’ve spoken to small groups, medium groups, and large groups of people about how to prevail through tough times.
Wherever I end up, there is one thing I am sure of. I survived that day for a reason. I am brave, I am strong, I am a warrior, I am here on this Earth to make a difference. Every day I wake up and I try to do a kind deed for someone. Sometimes, all it takes is a little kindness to change someone’s day, perhaps even their week, their month, or their year! I implore you to take a look around, to be kind to your family, to make a new friend, and most importantly, to be the best person you can be.
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