Kelly Bundridge doesn’t remember the car crash that caused her to lose both legs and changed her life forever.
“I remember bits and pieces when I got in the ambulance,” she says. “I remember being in the ambulance saying, ‘I can’t breathe. Where are my kids?’ I don’t remember anything else.”
Kelly lost both of her legs above the knee when an impaired driver hit her in front of her home. Her father and a family friend also suffered serious injuries in the accident.
In the two years since the crash, Kelly has faced enormous challenges. But she continues to move forward in her rehabilitation. Fitted with two prosthetic legs, she now can walk with assistive devices like canes or crutches.
And although she still isn’t where she wants to be in her recovery, she is determined to get there.
“I’m alive,” she says. “I remind myself of that a lot — that I’m here and I’m not going to die. And that’s my reminder every day, that they didn’t think I was going to walk, and I’m walking.”
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‘Everyone Was Just Standing Around, Shocked’
Before the crash, Kelly says her life was “constant running, on the go, nonstop.” She ran two businesses with her family: a painting company and a bar. And she was involved heavily in her children’s sports and activities.
Then, the day before Father’s Day in 2020, Kelly had just returned home from food shopping for a graduation party her bar was catering. Her daughter’s car battery had died, so she, her father, and her father’s friend were working to get it started. They pulled their work truck in front of her daughter’s car in front of the house, which is on a busy road in western Pennsylvania.
The jumper cables weren’t working, so Kelly started walking toward the trunk of her own car to grab another pair.
“That’s the last thing that I remember,” she says.
Since the crash, she’s learned the details.
A driver, under the influence of drugs, hit Kelly with her car, sending her flying down toward the house next door. It also struck Kelly’s father — trapping him between the two vehicles and a tree — and her father’s friend, who was trapped beneath her daughter’s car.
Many of Kelly’s family members were outside and saw the crash happen.
“Everyone was just standing around, shocked,” she says.
The impact of the crash severed both of Kelly’s legs above the knee. She also suffered a broken pelvis and broken ribs and had internal bleeding. A police officer who responded to the scene used his belt as a tourniquet to stop Kelly’s bleeding. She went into cardiac arrest twice after arriving at UPMC Mercy but was revived.
Her father suffered serious brain damage, among other injuries, and her father’s friend had serious leg injuries.
Outside of a few moments in the ambulance, Kelly’s next memory is waking up in the intensive care unit at UPMC Mercy three days after the accident.
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‘I Was Going to Walk’
Doctors at UPMC Mercy performed lifesaving surgery on Kelly after the crash. She spent the next three months in the hospital as doctors continued to treat her wounds to prevent infection.
The news about the crash and about her legs didn’t sink in at first.
“I don’t really remember how I felt,” she says of that time. “I know I didn’t cry. I don’t think I had any emotions. I didn’t have any feelings, probably almost all of the first month in the hospital. I don’t think it dawned on me or just even hit me.”
She did have one motivation.
Because of the severity of her injuries and how high her amputation was, doctors told Kelly she might not walk again. She was determined not to let that become a reality.
“I knew as soon as they told me that I probably wasn’t going to be able to walk again because of the injuries and everything that I was going to walk,” she says. “I knew somehow or another, I was not staying in that chair. There was no way.”
‘The Most Positive and Uplifting Attitude’
Kelly returned home in September 2020 after three months in the hospital.
Although she was determined to walk again, it would take more than that determination to actually accomplish it. It would require months — or years — of intense rehabilitation, not to mention advanced prosthetics.
“Her level of amputation is very challenging to deal with,” says Mary Ann Miknevich, MD, associate residency program director, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, UPMC. “Years ago, for patients with bilateral above-the-knee amputations or bilateral transfemoral amputations, walking was not a goal.
“But there have been changes in technology. The development of microprocessor-controlled prosthetic knees has made a difference in terms of their stability and ability to ambulate.”
Kelly didn’t have her prosthetics when she first returned home. So her first stages of rehab involved upper body workouts, along with learning how to use her wheelchair and transfer to bed.
She started going to the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute’s South Side location in October 2020. There, she was fitted for prosthetics and began the next stage of her rehab.
“At that time, Kelly was really pretty weak and deconditioned and it took a lot of effort for her just to be able to lift and move her body,” says Lisa Franz, PT, limb loss program coordinator, UPMC Rehabilitation Institute, and Kelly’s physical therapist. “Even just propelling the wheelchair was effortful for her. So, we spent a lot of time on core strengthening and talking to her about conditioning and endurance training. And that’s kind of where our road started.”
But one thing did strike Franz about Kelly.
“From day one, she has had the most positive and uplifting attitude facing the journey she’s had than any patient I think I’ve ever seen,” Franz says. “And that says a lot with the kind of injuries that we deal with here on an everyday basis.”
Before Kelly was fitted for prosthetics, she began working with short modular prosthetics, also known as “stubbies.” The stubbies put Kelly at about the height of a chair as she worked on strength and balance.
“With the stubbies being on, it was learning to stand straight up again and to gain that,” Kelly says. “It was just balancing. There was no taking steps. It was just standing there.”
Miknevich says Kelly took to the stubbies well, so the rehab team continued to use longer and longer prosthetics. Eventually, she received her fitted prosthetics. After first using a more basic prosthetic where the knees can be locked or unlocked, Kelly moved on to computer-assisted prosthetics.
Every step she made excited her.
“I feel like a 1-year-old trying to walk,” she says. “Even at therapy group, as soon as we do it, everything is exciting because I’m completing each goal as I move forward, something that I didn’t think that I’d be able to do. So it’s exciting, just being able to walk again. Standing up — the first stand and everything was hard. But it’s exciting.”
‘I Know It’s Possible’
Kelly’s rehab hasn’t been a straight line. As Kelly goes through therapy, the muscles on her legs change, causing her prosthetics to no longer fit.
Each time the fit stops working, the prosthetics need to be adjusted. That can cause setbacks in her therapy.
“It’s been a struggle, you know — the legs popping off while I’m walking, not holding the suction,” she says. “It’s a constant battle. And that’s why a lot of people give up. It’s a battle because you’ll fit for two, three weeks and now all of a sudden don’t fit again.”
But Kelly didn’t give up. She remained determined to continue working at it. She can walk without assistive devices in her stubbies, and she can walk in her mechanical prosthetics with assistive devices. She’s still determined to improve.
“She is an amazing person,” Miknevich says. “She has been an inspiration not only to those of us who work with her, but she has since served as a role model and a mentor to other patients with similar levels of amputation.”
Every time Kelly gets frustrated, she thinks of people who have inspired her. Her doctors introduced her to two women who have similar amputation stories.
She also is a member of Facebook groups where people share their stories and tips for therapy. She’s incorporated some of those tips into her own rehab.
“I think what motivated me the most was meeting the two ladies who went through almost the exact same thing that I went through,” Kelly says. “Watching them walk, I know it’s possible.”
‘I Need to Be That Voice’
The crash changed Kelly’s life forever. It changed her family’s lives forever, too.
Her father suffered significant brain damage and now has trouble remembering things. Many other family members who witnessed the crash have dealt with mental trauma.
Because Kelly could no longer help as much with the painting company and the bar, the family sold both businesses. They now own a used-car business, where Kelly is able to help her husband.
Even with the challenges the family faced after the crash, they remained close. Kelly is grateful for the support of her family.
“They’ve been there 100% of the way, going to therapy with me, helping me at home,” says Kelly, who is married with three children, a stepchild, and three grandchildren. “I was constantly on their mind. Anything that would make my life be better, anything that would help me on each day, they would help figure out. They always motivate me.”
At first after her injury, Kelly says she focused too much on the big goal of walking. But through her therapy, she began to learn the power of small victories.
She remembers some of those victories: Standing for the first time. Training on a hand-controlled vehicle and getting her driver’s license back. Going to the grocery store for the first time and pushing the shopping cart.
“It’s finding the strength to succeed because you can do it if you put your mind to anything,” she says.
She is still going through therapy, looking to continue to improve her mobility.
“For her to come with just the attitude that she does day in and day out for as long as it has been now, and with all the bumps that she’s had in her rehab journey, is just absolutely inspiring,” Franz says. “The biggest thing is how many patients in our office will turn to us and say, ‘Wow, look what she’s doing.’ It’s been phenomenal to watch.”
Kelly is also sharing her story with other people to help them. She’s spoken to sports teams about the dangers of drugs, using what happened to her as an example, and about the importance of not giving up. She also is helping other people who have had amputations.
“People who overcome it and are showing it to the world make us who are still trying to be that know that it’s possible,” she says. “Physically seeing it and knowing that it’s possible motivates you even more. Having people in your ear constantly helps. I need to be that voice as well. I can help others.”
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