31 Year Old Disabled Amputee Seeks Grant To Restore Breadwinner Status
by Jeremy Underwood
(Morganton, GA, USA)
My name is Jeremy Underwood. I was born in a small town called Blue Ridge in the state of Georgia on September 11, 1980.
I was raised in Blue Ridge and graduated in 1999. I was an avid sports player from the age of 8 to 16.
From the age of 10, I worked doing carpentry and building houses. Working with wood was not only my trade but also my obsession.
I took great pride in working with my hands and working with wood. I always felt like I had to turn a raw piece of wood into a work of art.
From a very young age I became a perfectionist. Everything had to be perfect or it was unacceptable.
I worked for my dad building houses from the age of 10 to 22. I was entrusted with building my first house when I was 14.
I met my wife Amanda in high school and we got married about 2 months after I graduated. We had our son, Jade, on January 9th, 2001. I continued to work for my dad until 2002.
It's hard to work for family so I decided to go to work for a guy who seemed to have the same passion for building as I did. I worked for him until May 19th, 2005.
On May 19th, 2005 I fell about 40 feet off a house we were building. We were framing a roof when a board broke sending me tumbling off the edge to the ground.
I was flown to UT Medical Center and placed in the trauma bay where my heart stopped. They spent 2 minutes and 39 seconds before they finally resuscitated me.
My injuries were many: lower jaw broken in 2 places, right wrist broken, an L-5 compression fracture in my lower back, a shattered right ankle, a shattered right heel which exploded through the skin, and a shattered upper and lower left ankle.
I spent 13 days there and received 3 surgeries -- 1 on my jaw, which was sewn shut, 1 on my left ankle and 1 on my right ankle and heel. They took a bone out of my hip to make me a new heel.
I don't remember even going into work that day so when I woke up at 1:40 am the next morning I was shocked to find myself in a hospital.
The doctors told my family and me that I would never walk again and would have immense pain in my feet for the rest of my life. I spent 4 months in a hospital bed they set up in my home.
Almost 4 months to the day I took my first step. My family doctor immediately placed me into physical therapy. After 2 months of therapy, my therapist noticed my right heel had shifted.
It took months to find an orthopedic doctor in Georgia. After a series of x-rays they discovered the screws the UT doctors had placed in my heel had broken. They also noticed that the Talus bone in my left foot was dying.
My new doctor decided to work on my right foot first because it seemed the simplest to fix. April 20th, 2006, the doctors cut a new piece of bone from my hip to make me another new heel.
Two weeks later I went back to have the stitches taken out when the doctor discovered a huge blood clot about the size of a half dollar coin behind the stitches.
He took cultures and cut out the clot and wrapped me up and sent me home. About 3 days later they called me from the doctors office to tell me the clot had tested positive for osteomyelitis, which is about the worst type of MRSA staph infection there is. It eats bone.
Over the next 10 months I went through 2 to 5 surgeries a month trying to cut out the infected bone. I was consistently on IV antibiotics the whole time.
In March the decision was made to amputate the leg below the knee before the staph spread further. So on March 15th, 2007 the doctors amputated my leg about 8 inches below the knee.
In June I received my fake leg. I was placed in a pain management program in 2006 to help with the constant pain, which I still deal with on a daily basis. On top of this, arthritis has developed in my lower back and left ankle.
I was traveling from north Georgia to Atlanta 3 to 5 times a week from March 2006 to January 2009. My doctor decided to allow me to completely heal and wanted me to be on a pain regimen that controlled most of my pain.
I received my disability in February of 2008 after fighting for it for 18 months. They had declared me totally disabled. After I felt like I was tolerating my pain well enough to undergo another round of surgeries.
I went back to my surgeon at who decided he didn't want to deal with my situation anymore. After more than a year of trying to find another orthopedic doctor, we found one at St Josephs Hospital in September 2010.
I went to him for about a month. During that month I underwent numerous tests and x-rays.
My infectious disease doctor had been telling my for years that my best option was to have my left leg amputated below the knee because my left ankle also had the same staph infection as my right one did.
My new doctor decided he wanted to go in and take some deep bone samples to culture and remove some hardware still in my left ankle.
I signed the pre-op papers on a Tuesday in the middle of October, and the next morning I woke up to my right stump swelled to the size of a basketball.
The same staph infection that cost me my leg was back. From October 2010 to February 2011 I underwent another 5 surgeries in which they removed another 2 inches of bone and about a pound of flesh.
In all, I've had between 26 to 31 surgeries. Currently I'm still recovering but soon I will still have to deal with my left ankle.
The only reason I don't have to deal with my left ankle right away is because the talus bone where the staph is located is almost dead, which is keeping it from spreading for the moment.
My wife has had to stay by my side almost constantly for the past couple years and all we've had to rely on is my disability check and the check my son draws off me.
I draw a total of $1,256 between my son's and my checks. I have a mortgage and all the related bills that come with owning your own home.
It's a daily struggle trying to pay all my bills. Between all my medical expenses, medical equipment, and the cost of traveling over 200 mile round trip up to 5 times a week, we are barely making it.
My wife tries to work as much as she can but because of my medical condition, she pretty much has to be here to help me with almost all the daily basics.
There are some days where I can do most stuff myself but I still can't stand up for more than an hour a day!
Before receiving my disability, my lawyer said I could try and work up to 20 hours a week. Me being young and determined to return to work, I tried several times.
Finally my boss said that it wasn't cost effective having me on the job because I couldn't stand up for very long.
My wife has tried to work several jobs but because of my medical condition and the restrictions placed on how much money she could make versus the benefits we are getting (Medicaid, and food stamps), it wasn't cost effective for her to work.
She works part time cleaning homes but cleaning jobs are few and far between.
Back in 2005 when I first fell, some churches helped us out with our cost of living but that's long gone.
Because of all my medical bills I've had to borrow money from a finance company several times. The total is over $15,000.
Plus medical equipment is overly priced and constantly tearing up.
I'm at my limit when it comes to borrowing money and there are a lot of medical expenses coming up in the near future.
I live in a singlewide mobile home that is not handicap accessible. There are a lot of things I am unable to do because of my home not being fit for the handicapped.
It's not easy going in and out with a wheelchair, or getting into the restroom with a wheelchair. Any help would go along way in making my life as well as my family's life easier.
I still enjoy working in my wood shop when I'm able. Right now I'm in the process of making tomahawks hopefully to sell at the flea market for some extra money.
I've been told I could get $40 or more for each. It costs me about $100 for every 5 I make because of not having the right tools for cutting steel and working with steel.
I am a jack-of-all-trades and can make about anything anyone can imagine as long as it can be made out of wood.
I would love to expand my shop so I could make stuff to sell at the local flea markets and farmers markets so I can help my family's financial situation.