Manual Salazar: Amputee Faces New Life with Optimism, Motivation

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By Sherry Metzger, MS

To see the glowing complexion, sensitive, puppy-eyes, and electric smile of 24-year-old Manual Salazar is to forget the horror he has experienced at such a young age. Three years ago, Salazar arrived at a rock quarry in South Carolina for what he thought would be a typical day in construction. But, when a co-worker boomed a crane into power lines while Salazar was holding the steel hook that swung from it, his life changed in an instant. Salazar was struck with 115,000 volts of electricity-twice. He was thrown ten feet and his body caught fire. His co-workers had to watch while his body burned for eight minutes before the electrical company would allow anyone to reenter the area.

Salazar passed out from shock, awoke twice: once to see his body in flames and the second time to see the spinning helicopter blades that would save him. The rescuers described his body as charcoal.

He spent three months in a burn unit and underwent more than 30 surgeries in that time, including amputations and skin grafts. His recovery was termed "a miracle" by medical professionals who discovered that the electricity, which coursed through every organ of his body, completely bypassed his heart. They removed six feet of his large intestine and though they tried to save as much of his limbs as possible, poor blood circulation resulted in the amputations of both arms at the shoulders and both legs four inches above the knees.

"I don't focus on what I've lost," says Salazar. "I look forward to doing things I can still enjoy."

However, the year after the accident was marked with emotion and struggle. "I was so angry then," he admits. "I didn't feel like a whole person. My wife left me, my doctors said I would never walk again, and I felt useless. I gained a lot of weight and I was so depressed."

Salazar's transformation has been inspiring. "I've known him since his accident three years ago and he has dramatically changed in that time," says Magdy Bekhit, owner of Mobility Transportation, Denver, Colorado. "He went from a depressed person to one who motivates others. He cheers everyone around him with his enthusiasm for life."

"What I find most amazing and enjoyable about Manual is his spirit and will to succeed," agrees Daniel Savone, Salazar's counselor. "I often leave sessions with Manual feeling like he has helped heal me, rather than the other way around!"

'Believe in Yourself'

His motivation is simple: to prove wrong those who would try to limit him. "You've got to believe in yourself," he advises. "Don't let others tell you what you can or can't do." Other successful amputees also encourage him. "I read about Cameron Clapp in The O&P EDGE and was inspired by his story," he says. When he met Clapp at the Amputee Coalition of America (ACA) Annual Educational Conference & Exposition in Minnesota in June, Clapp recommended a diet for Salazar and walking on "stubbies" every day to achieve his goal of someday wearing "sea legs" to swim in the ocean again.

Salazar recently completed a three-week course to learn to drive a specially designed car. "The car is run by four computers," he explains. "There's a button on the headrest that I hit, and depending on the number of hits, I can honk the horn, put the windows down, or even adjust the radio." His shoulders operate the accelerator and brake and his residual limbs can operate the linear steering. "I'll feel a big sense of freedom when I can drive again," he says.

He recently moved from Georgia to Colorado where he'd been receiving treatment since the accident and where he has an excellent support group. "Prostheses are more comfortable to wear in Colorado; It's too hot in Georgia," he jokes. "It's also a great place to ski." Though he admits he was a little scared the first time he tried the sport with the help of the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD), Winter Park, Colorado, by the second day he felt comfortable enough to steer himself. Now he looks forward to purchasing a sit-ski and a season pass.

Achieving Greater Autonomy

Though Salazar can sit up and get into his power chair by himself, he needs 24-hour nurses' care to perform all other functions, including donning his prostheses. Yet, his desire for greater autonomy motivates him to go to therapy five days a week, work out every day, and take long walks. He also uses available technology such as Bluetooth to chat on the phone, controls his wheelchair with his chin via a mini-joystick, and operates his computer by using a laser attached to his forehead.

The co-worker who caused the accident, his third, hasn't seen Salazar since that day. "I'm not mad at anyone," Salazar says. "It was just an accident." His zest for life is evidence of this forgiveness.

Sherry Metzger, MS, is a freelance writer with degrees in anatomy and neurobiology. She is based in Westminster, Colorado, and may be reached at .