Won't stop thinking about tomorrow

Staten Island Advance/Glenn Nyback

 

Possessed of indomitable will, a desire to push limits and endless hope, Adhiambo Mitchell is out to show friends, co-workers and family that nothing will stop him from living life to the fullest -- just two months after he lost both his legs in a horrific car crash in Brooklyn.

The 32-year-old Stapleton resident's life nearly ended near the Rockaway Parkway exit of the eastbound Belt Parkway on April 5.


As he swerved to avoid colliding with a car that cut him off, the brakes of his 2004 Nissan Maxima locked, causing him to slam into a guardrail and flip over.

His right leg was severed in the accident. The other had to be amputated above the knee at Coney Island Hospital.

But refusing to feel sorry for himself, Mitchell is already training for a spot on the New York Knicks wheelchair program, the Rollin' Knicks, and hopes soon to compete in wheelchair track competitions.

Eager to be outfitted with prosthetic legs, Mitchell also wants to go fishing, rock-climbing and learn how to swim.

"You can't go back, you can only go forward. I've gotta move on with it," Mitchell, a father of four, said earlier today at his sister's New Brighton house. "I have the urge to do so many things now. I know I can do it. I just want to have fun."

Mitchell was heading to his girlfriend's house in Brooklyn around 3 a.m. after returning from his uncle's North Carolina funeral -- as fate would have it, the uncle lost both of his legs due to complications from diabetes -- when the accident happened. A Long Island volunteer ambulance happened to be driving right behind him and saved his life when they stopped to pull him from the burning car.

The pain was unlike anything Mitchell had ever imagined and he admits he still has nightmares about the incident and tries to answer "what if" questions. But it didn't take long after realizing what had happened before he made up his mind to rebound, get back to his job as a mechanic and be even more athletic than he'd already been as a former boxer.

"I have a long way to go, but I know I'm going to get there," he said, acknowledging that he has at least 18 months of regular hospital visits. But he's already working out daily at Planet Fitness in West Brighton with his brother-in-law John and at the Cromwell Recreation Center, Tompkinsville, where he recently became a member. Currently aided by his mother, sister, brother-in-law and a couple of friends, he anticipates the day he can be independent again.
"I just want to rely totally on myself."

SUPPORT SYSTEM

With the help of his sister Ayana Verdi, Mitchell got in touch with the Amputee Coalition of America -- a non-profit advocacy group that helps amputees through peer support, education about recovery and access to resources to get there. Charlie Steele, the ACA's regional representative, connected Mitchell with Paul Esposito, the Lighthouse Hill resident who lost both legs after the 2003 Staten Island Ferry crash.

The two met recently at The Cup cafe in Stapleton, where Esposito, whose life has returned to some semblance of normalcy, gave Mitchell a pep talk and told him to keep his head high. Esposito, who's now 29, drives, swims and carries on with life doing what he wants to do.

"Life goes on, it's just a little bit different," Esposito said. "You have to relearn how to do things. Things you loved to do before, you'll be able to do them again."

Esposito, who was impressed by Mitchell's drive, let him know about different programs and resources available to help people in their situation.

Mitchell -- who also got a visit during a one-month rehabilitation stint at New York University Medical Center from actor and athlete Cameron Clapp, a triple amputee who lost both legs and an arm after being run over by a freight train in California seven years ago -- said meeting others who've endured similar situations gave him strength and motivation to think positive.

"It gives me a sign of hope. It lets me know that if they can do it, I can definitely do it," said Mitchell, who one day hopes to become a mentor to other amputees to let them know that life's not over after a devastating injury. He'd also like to produce an inspirational video to show people everything an amputee can do after an injury.

"It's extremely important for their emotional and mental progress to see someone who's already been through the recovery process," Steele said. "It relieves that anxiety and that stress to a great degree. If you meet someone who's been there, done that ... they let you know exactly what's ahead. If they see someone [like Esposito] come in ... immediately their hopes have shot up to the ceiling."

Steele, 62 -- whose left leg was amputated below the knee after complications from heart surgery 17 years ago -- said the ACA normally tries to pair recent amputees with others in similar situations who are the same age and live near them. The program helps them get through the long road ahead of them by knowing that others have gotten through it successfully, he said.

Ayana Verdi is eager to help her brother get back on track quickly and is helping him raise funds for the specialized wheelchairs he needs in order to play basketball and compete in track events. She is organizing a yard sale fund-raiser Saturday and Sunday where homeowners on Clinton Avenue in New Brighton have agreed to donate some of their proceeds to Mitchell's cause.

The yard sale, which will stretch from Richmond Terrace to Henderson Avenue, will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days.

"Sometimes he feels that he's lost himself," said Ms. Verdi, who quickly pointed out her brother's admirable will to get on with life and learn to live with his handicap. "It's a struggle mentally for him. But he's really way ahead of where most people would be with an injury like that."