By Alyce Collins
A HORRIFIC motorcycle crash led this woman to be rushed to hospital where nurses informed her that she was PREGNANT – but rather than fight to save her leg she decided to have it AMPUTATED to protect her unborn baby from the dangers of multiple surgeries.
Marketing executive and founder of Be More Adaptive Caitlin Conner (29) from Texas, USA, was involved in a terrifying motorcycle crash on May 30, 2014 when she and her ex-husband, Jaylon (32) were on their way to visit family.
A driver was texting while behind the wheel and changing lanes but didn’t see the pair on the motorbike. Caitlin was thrown from the motorbike and immediately saw the damage done to her left leg, which was lying straight but her foot was facing inwardly. Caitlin was airlifted to hospital, while Jaylon was driven to a different hospital, and was provided with a port to distribute pain medication and take blood samples for testing. Caitlin suffered broken bones in her feet and distal tibia, a severed artery and friction burns from the skidding on the road.
Caitlin woke up hours later and a nurse came into her room and gave her the news that her blood tests showed she was four weeks pregnant. The surprise pregnancy meant that Caitlin had to have minimal anaesthesia during the six reconstructive surgeries she endured to try and save her leg, as well as limited pain medication.
The reconstructive surgeries involved reattaching tendons and muscle, straightening broken bones and a surgery to take bone from her hip to fill a hole left in her left ankle. Following the many surgeries, Caitlin decided to amputate her left leg below the knee because she wanted to protect her unborn baby who was also facing the effects of surgery. It wasn’t a difficult decision for Caitlin because she knew her leg didn’t define her but being a mother could.
After finding out about her pregnancy and having her leg amputated on June 12, 2014, it became Caitlin’s goal to learn to walk before welcoming her daughter. On February 13, 2015, Caitlin’s daughter Tinley was born, weighing 8lb 8oz. Since then, Caitlin’s determination hasn’t stopped as she was unhappy with her weakened frame, so she started CrossFit, before discovering her passion for parasports, such as paracycling, running and swimming.
“It was a nice evening and the weather was kind, so Jaylon and I decided to hop on the motorcycle to go to his parents’ house,” said Caitlin.
“The light turned green and we got into the left lane of a two-lane road. There was a young woman driving a white car who was angled across the entire lane in a way that made it seem like she was turning into the left lane.
“She didn’t see us on the bike which we later learned was because she was texting while driving. She started coming out into the left lane and we saw her about to hit us. She was trying to gun it to get across and we never stood a chance against whatever was more important on her phone.
“I flew off the back of the bike, Jaylon went with the bike. I remember rolling and skidding to a halt. I sat up and looked at my leg and my left ankle was turned inward.
“I was taken by ambulance to the emergency services station then airlifted to the hospital. We got to the hospital and the nurses tried to rush fluids into my port. The last question I remember before passing out on the way to surgery was if I was pregnant, to which I replied, ‘I don’t know, we’ve been trying but the tests have said no,’ then lights out.
“I woke up during the night with my family beside me, trying to comprehend how much time had passed. My left leg was in an external fixator. The nurse walked in and said ‘oh good, you’re awake. We want to tell you that you are pregnant.’
“I found out the next day that I was four weeks pregnant and I called Jaylon to tell him that I was alive and that he was going to be a dad.
“I had broken bones in my left foot and distal tibia, a severed artery and a major road rash. I had six reconstructive surgeries to take bone out of my hip to fill a golf ball-sized hole in my ankle. The rest were debridement of road and debris and straightening broken bones, reattaching tendons and muscle.
“After two weeks and six surgeries, I decided not to keep trying to save my leg. I knew the moment I saw it at the scene that it was gone. I had to do everything with minimal pain medicine, anaesthesia, and antibiotics to make sure the baby stayed safe which was dangerous and painful. I knew I had to be as calm as possible to keep the baby from being affected by stress.
“As soon as I learned I was pregnant, I had someone else to take care of, so I didn’t focus on myself. Everything was about the baby. My leg didn’t define me as a person, but the baby would in a way.”
Caitlin admits that learning to walk with a prosthetic was difficult as her body was changing as her weight fluctuated and the effect of pregnancy on her spine impacted her balance, but she was sure to learn to walk before Tinley was born.
Since becoming a competitive para-athlete, Caitlin has founded a non-profit called Be More Adaptive which provides resources for adaptive sports allowing more people to get involved, as well as providing funding and volunteers for events to create a more accessible community.
“Recovery was a long road as I had to learn how to walk four times. The first after amputating, another time after my spine started changing from pregnancy, then again after I broke my leg in a fall, and lastly, I had to learn again after delivering my child,” said Caitlin.
“Pregnancy was difficult. I was in the prosthetic office every two weeks trying to get a new prosthetic as I had major weight fluctuations. I gained six stone during pregnancy and then lost a lot of weight after. I also fell three times while pregnant, once while getting out of my wheelchair and I broke my leg.
“My goals were to walk and run before Tinley was born. I just wanted to be able to run and play with her, or to be able to run and grab her if she ran off. I did as much physiotherapy as I could until I was too heavily pregnant.
“After that, I started walking 5K while pushing Tinley in a pushchair. I hated how I looked, and I felt weak. Then I started doing CrossFit because I needed to build muscle. I started doing as many sports as possible just to see what I could do and I found a love for triathlons, swimming, cycling, skiing, figure skating and boxing.
“Be More Adaptive was created to take all of the adaptive resources and put them in one place. It’s the missing link in the adaptive community, and we aim to make the world more accessible.
“By pooling resources, we can eliminate a lot of the problems the adaptive community has. Whether it be lack of funding, volunteers, participants, or locations for events, if we join forces, those once daunting problems can become problems of the past. We hope to share our resources and knowledge to those in need.
“The best thing you can do in life is try! I was so complacent in life before and it shouldn’t have taken the losses it did to start living life.”