After she lost her legs to bacterial meningitis, Amy Purdy struggled with depression and hopelessness. She only overcame the ordeal when she learned to accept her new reality beyond any limitations that she had inflicted on herself. Today, Purdy is a renowned World Champion Female Adaptive Snowboarder. In 2005, she co-founded Adaptive Action Sports, a nonprofit dedicated to introducing people with physical challenges to action sports.
Amy Purdy has lived an extraordinary life paved with adversities that she turned into stepping stones for success. Since a young 15-year-old, she has always been a passionate snowboarder. At 19, her life took a detour when she left her job early working as a massage therapist one day with what she thought was the flu. Purdy was soon rushed to the hospital in a state of septic shock. Once admitted, the doctors said her chances of survival were less than 2%. She was immediately put on life support and placed into a coma for better chances of recovery.
When Purdy’s abdomen became distended, her doctors realized that she was suffering from internal bleeding, and it was just a matter of time before her spleen would burst. She was then rushed into emergency surgery to rectify the cause.
Purdy briefly died during that intense surgery. She said, “I remember thinking, ‘I know these people are here to save me, but I am going. I am going right now.’ And it felt as if I was hanging on by my fingertips. And every heartbeat, I was moving closer and closer to the edge. All of a sudden, I felt my last heartbeat.”
After the ruptured spleen removal and multiple blood transfusions, the doctors diagnosed Purdy with Meningococcal Meningitis, a vaccine-preventable bacterial infection. Due to the lack of blood circulation, the doctors had to amputate both her legs below the knee. A week before her 21st birthday, she received a donated kidney from her father, which she calls the greatest gift of her life.
After her recovery, Purdy fell into depression. However, she was determined not to let her amputation stop her from tearing up the slopes and pursuing her passion for snowboarding. “In order to move forward, I knew I had to let go of the old Amy somehow and learn to embrace the new Amy,” she said.
However, it wasn’t an easy task. Her first pair of prosthetics were crude and not made for someone with aspirations of competitive snowboarding. Purdy said they looked like the pair had come straight from Home Depot. She recalled saying to herself: “These can’t be the legs that I’m going to live the rest of my life in.”
It took trial and error to develop the perfect pair of prosthetics that were fit for competitive snowboarding. Fortunately, Purdy could compete and medal at the USASA National Snowboarding Championship just a few months after her kidney transplant surgery. She performed skillfully and went on to earn a bronze medal at the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi.
She then channelled her fierce determination into Adaptive Action Sports. This nonprofit organization hopes to spread the message that “the ‘disabled’ can ‘live beyond their limits'” the way Purdy does every single day. AAS provides training for adaptive athletes and certifies instructors with the ultimate goal of increasing respect and helping differently-abled people live a normal life. AAS and Purdy have also developed relations with the USA Snowboarding Association and created an adaptive division. They have advocated for similar divisions internationally.
Purdy’s creativity, positive outlook and never-give-up attitude have opened doors to many avenues, including acting as the lead role in an award-winning independent film and multiple creative modelling projects, being featured in a Madonna music video, doing a photo shoot with artist and musician Nikki Sixx where her legs were custom made to look like ice picks from steel.
During her incredible journey in the past two decades, Purdy has evolved into a powerful motivational and inspirational speaker sharing her story with millions of people worldwide. Amy’s TED x Orange Coast talk, ‘Living Beyond Limits’, is the number one recommended video by TED x OC to incoming TED speakers formulating their presentations.
Despite the incredible turnaround of her life, Amy didn’t expect to collide with yet another medical challenge in 2019- a vascular injury in her left leg that was a blood clot stretching from her hip to the bottom of her leg.
The injury prohibited Purdy from wearing her prosthetic on her left leg as the leg could not take the pressure. Doctors initially told Purdy that to treat the clot, she could either amputate what was left of her leg or have a procedure that could destroy her kidney that she received as a transplant from her father to save her life 20 years ago.
“That was hard,” Purdy said. “I had a big choice to make … I was fighting for my life 20 years ago, but this [time] I was fighting for the quality of my life.I couldn’t imagine not snowboarding again, not walking again. I couldn’t accept it,” Purdy said.
One year after her diagnosis, Purdy could walk again thanks to her ‘angel’ surgeons Dr Michael Cooper and Dr Omar Mubarak. She credits Dr Cooper with saving her leg, while Mubarak found alternative therapies to help her heal. “I just looked at her and said we’re gonna look at things outside the box,” Mubarak told Good Morning America. She’s young, she’s strong, she can handle the clot-buster that we essentially put down there.”
Purdy is back on her feet and continues to be a voice for others who share the same experiences as her. She said in conclusion, “Don’t look at us like we’re amputees, we’re already damaged. Look at us like we’re humans.”