Roy Exum: My 2020 Valentine: Siskin

Friday, February 14, 2020 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

When the 17th Annual Possibilities Luncheon is held at the Chattanooga Convention Center in a couple of weeks, it will be the biggest event to benefit our Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation that I can ever remember. I have been an unashamed “homer” for Siskin Hospital from the very get-go. I have helped ballyhoo every such luncheon for the past 16 years and, at each, I have been moved to tears by the glory of mankind. What’s changed for me is that the Siskin crowd that is so used to putting people’s lives back together, will appear vastly different in my personal eye. As we celebrate our new Valentine’s Day, today I am deeply warmed that in just three weeks at the start of this year the doctors, nurses, both physical and occupational therapists did far, far more than get me back on my “foot,” – thus they will forever own a piece of my heart. My Valentines for 2020 are my newly discovered angels who I met in quick and short order when my leg was amputated last December 13.

So, it is no wonder I can say the Tuesday, March 3, luncheon will be the very best ever because it is just now the pretty and enthusiastic faces are real life human beings, who taught me to climb stairs, take showers, transfer from a wheelchair to the front seat of a car and – this is key – never laughed when I would stumble, fall, or sit in the shower buck naked and ask for soap.  Not a time did anyone laugh at me, but, oh, we laughed together constantly. There was even one day when I asked if they would help me to the top of the stairs in one of the exercise rooms and suddenly push me and my chair down the flight. “Are you crazy,” they asked and I told ‘em, “Don’t mind the blood … when I am lying at the foot of those stairs and I’m alone and my wheelchairs is ‘tumpted’ over 10 feet away, I gotta’ know what to, and how to do it!” They never would push me down the stairs --- but, boy oh boy, did they teach me exactly what to do if it ever happened … with the warning, “You can’t afford to break any more parts.”

You have no idea who you bond with these people, who each becomes your “newest best friend.” This year’s speaker knows exactly what I mean. Heather Abbott, a vivacious blonde, was waiting for a table outside a trendy restaurant in Boston as friends took part in the Boston Marathon (2013) and the bomb heard round the world that was detonated immediately blew away her leg. Yes, Heather Abbott knows what I now know. Today a gifted speaker, Heather started a foundation that provides costly prosthetic devices to those less fortunate and the reason -- Heather was interviewed by a Boston television station on the first anniversary of the horror and here is what she said:

Standing at the very site the bomb exploded, she paused just a tick before she smiled in the camera and said, “This has made me kinder … I think that the experience of losing my leg has made me become more compassionate, so … I may have less of a leg now, but I think my heart is bigger because of it.”

If that isn’t enough to make you clamor for a front row seat at the Convention and Trade Center, this year’s hosts are Jeff and Cindy Messinger. Longtime personal friends, I saw Jeff when whatever physical challenges were banging on him and said, “Never forget one simple rule – inch by inch, anything’s a cinch.” Jeff took it to heart and he and Cindy, on behalf of the Steering Committee, will greet us all at the door. The easiest way to get tickets is by going to www.SiskinRehab.org and follow the online forms for tickets ($75 each) and donations (we can never be as big a part of Siskin as it is to thousands of our families, but the very smallest gift, I guarantee you, will still be a new ripple of kindness at a place where they never run low in miracles.)

Unum, one of Chattanooga’s corporate treasurers, has been the event sponsor since the beginning. Brewer Media and the Times Free Press are also big in making it happen and Hamico, bless ‘em, is bringing Heather as the speaker. Of course, Heather will just plow her appearance fee back into her foundation, helping to buy a prosthesis for someone she doesn’t know but already adores.

Don’t you see, that’s what makes the whole world tick. When Heather was in shock, sprawled at the front door of the restaurant in the smoke and glass, she cried for help and, as if by magic, she was swooped up by former New England Patriots linebacker Matt Chatman. “When the first bomb went off, I turned in the direction of it and saw smoke and people kind of frantic,” said Heather. “Just seconds later, the second bomb exploded right next to me.” Since it was a spring day, the restaurant had its doors open—and the force of the bomb catapulted Heather inside the restaurant.

“When I came to on the ground, I realized my foot felt like it was on fire,” she said. “I was in a lot of pain, and people were running away in the direction of the street through the back entrance of the restaurant.” When she couldn’t get up, Matt Chatham and his wife Erin were right there. One year later, Heather was allowed to run the last half-mile of the storied race with the same Erin Chatman as she finished the 26.2-miler.

Of 230 people who were injured in the Boston bombing, Heather was one of 16 who lost a lower limb. She was one of over 100 whose ear drums were ruptured and has been part of hearing-loss research. But what I know, just wait until March 3 when you hear her. This year’s Possibilities Luncheon will be the best ever.

* * *

FROM THE ‘HEATHER ABBOTT FOUNDATION website: Her recovery, as it is for so many other victims of traumatic injury, was a journey through pain, anger, fear, disbelief, self-doubt and questioning. For Heather, the ability to move forward came through the support of family and friends, fellow amputees and the countless strangers who not only sent her cards and letters of encouragement – but who also generously donated to a special fund to help her transition and receive the customized prostheses she needed to live the life she once knew.

Today, Heather is once again doing everything she loves to do, including paddle boarding, running and even wearing high heels!

Through it all, Heather has remained a model of strength and perseverance. Her determination and passion to help other limb loss victims is evident in everything she does. As a certified Peer Counselor for the American Amputee Coalition, Heather is able to provide hope and emotional healing. As a nationally-known motivational speaker, she reminds audiences of the power of positive thinking and the real impact compassionate giving can have on the life of someone in need.

For Heather, The Heather Abbott Foundation is both an obligation and an opportunity to “pay it forward” – to give other amputees who have suffered limb loss through traumatic circumstances the chance to live their life – again.

* * *

For more information on the March 3 luncheon, contract Denna Deweese at the hospital 423/634-1208.

royexum@aol.com

Heather Abbott
Heather Abbott

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