There’s no stopping this amputee from climbing mountains and sharing hope
LIKE MOST amputees, Al Fernandez entertained the idea of suicide when he lost his left leg to a severe foot infection back in 2004. He lost the will to live – not even his wife and two kids could pull him out of his stupor.
“My wife is younger than me. When I lost my leg, there was a time that I told her that she should just leave me since she can still remarry. I was very depressed,” said the 49-year old who once worked for an animation company.
Amidst all the negativity he felt, Fernandez zeroed in on one thought that still kept him going: his love for running and mountaineering.
“I’ve always loved running marathons and mountaineering. So when my doctor told me that they have to remove one of my toes due to a corn that got really infected, I thought I was going to be okay because I could still run. But then they saw that the infection spread to the other toes and they had to amputate the other toes or else I will be at risk of having bone cancer,” he recalled.
That was when things took a turn for the worse: Removing more toes meant that he will no longer be able to walk properly, let alone run. It wasn’t an option.
“The doctor suggested that they cut the whole portion of my leg below the knee, that way I can get a prosthetic leg and still be able to run. That was the reason I agreed to have my leg amputated.”
Fernandez, however, didn’t factor in the cost of having an artificial leg. To have one that he can use to absorb surface shock when running, he had to shell out almost a million pesos. It was not an option for him at that time. The former runner spiraled into depression after that.
“I really wanted to end my life. I felt that I am no longer a whole person, and that there was no reason for me to live anymore. It was only my kids who kept me from doing any harm to myself since they were still very young,” he said.
It took almost seven years since the amputation when he was able to recover from depression. He did it by keeping himself busy with small tasks around the house, and then later, his community.
“I kept myself busy. I fixed broken things at home, then later proceeded to keep our side of the neighborhood clean. That really helped me, it gave me a sense of purpose,” he said.
Fernandez also shared that meeting fellow amputees in the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) where he gets his leg checked also changed his outlook about his situation.
“I saw people who had it worse than me. Some had both legs cut off, some simply don’t have a chance to walk again, yet they were still smiling. They remained positive. In a way, I was actually still very lucky.”
It was this time when Fernandez was given a chance at a new leg. During one of his community projects, he met an Indian national who introduced him to Jaipur Foot, a company producing prosthetic legs which is based in India.
“I was able get an artificial leg from them and that was the point when my life made another turn – this time for the better,” he recalled.
Along with newfound friends from PGH, Fernandez was able to once more do one of the things he loved: Mountain climbing.
“I was able to climb Pico De Loro for my first climb since my leg got amputated. After that, I was able to go up Mt. Pulag next.”
Fernandez then proceeded to try biking with his new artificial foot, and before long, finally joined his first marathon. At this point in his life, he felt “whole” again.
“When I joined the marathon, I was noticed because I was an amputee. I didn’t know that what I did inspired other people who were in the same condition as me. People who were suffering like I am began approaching me. That was when I established Amp Runner, my Facebook page.”
Through social media, Fernandez was able to reach out to other amputees. In fact, he would even go out of his way to meet them and just let them know that life is not hopeless just because they lost a leg.
“I would bike and meet these people, especially those who no longer have the will to live and even refuse to get an artificial leg. In a way, this has become my new purpose. This happened to me so I can reach out to others who suffer the same fate.”
Today, Fernandez is fortunate enough to be given one of the best artificial legs available to amputees which is Ottobock. He sees this as a sign that he still has a long way to go in helping others stay positive even amidst dire situations.
“Every day is a blessing and I am very lucky compared to others. I now know that my leg was taken because I have another journey to take, and that is to inspire and help amputees like myself know that having your leg taken is not the end of the road. They just need to keep positive.”
To get in touch, check his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ahlknife.