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A year after ATV accident, teen returns to school

POSTED: August 8, 2014 1:03 a.m.

Sam Sartain plays catch with little brother Stephen in their North Hall driveway.

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The 15-year-old lost one of his feet in an ATV accident last August, which forced him to spend his first year as a high-schooler in and out of hospitals, on and off powerful painkillers and undergoing months of physical therapy. He endured seven surgeries and three amputations to his right leg.

Twice, he came close to death — once on the operating table, once after an accidental overdose of painkillers. The pain was so intense, his mother said, even drugs such as morphine and methadone only dulled it. It didn’t go away.

Still, Sam managed to complete a half semester’s worth of studies thanks to online classes. Thursday, with the aid of a prosthetic leg and physical therapy, he returned to school for the first time since the accident — his first day of high school.

Sam blends in easily with the other students heading to the lunchroom at Gainesville High School, stopping to say hello to friends and looking around for a good place to sit.

“It’s been OK. It’s just that homeroom is all the way up in the modulars,” he said. “It’s a pretty far walk. But everybody’s been really nice.”

The best thing about returning to school, he said, has been reuniting with friends he hasn’t seen since the accident, but he’s also glad to be out and about.

“For a while, all I had to do was sit at the house,” he said.

Sam has come a long way since last year. His mobility still has its limitations — the prosthetic leg can only be used so much — but with it he is able to walk smoothly and navigate the school grounds.

His mobility is the result of a lot of work and medical care.

After the accident, Sam relied on a feeding tube, IVs and a wheelchair. He had to move from his own bedroom to one of the ground floor, and travel was difficult.

“We went on my first college visit and we had to fit his IV pole in my mom’s tiny car,” said Sam’s sister Catherine, 17, who will  be attending Valdosta State College this year. “Every time we stopped for the bathroom, we had to take the IV pole out. We got some weird looks.”

“We looked like we were going to take someone’s kidney,” Sam said.

Sam’s sense of humor is ever-present, and he and his siblings enjoy ribbing each other.

“People have their parents to embarrass them in front of their friends. I have Sam,” joked his younger sister Hannah, 12, a student at North Hall Middle School.

“People will get mad and say, ‘Why can’t you take stuff seriously?’” said Sam. “I’m a 15-year-old guy. I’m not supposed to take stuff seriously.”

Sam also has a positive outlook, and said if he could go back in time and change the accident, he wouldn’t.

“I’m not a big believer in the death scene stuff, but if you want something bad enough, you’ll go out and get it,” he said.

“He could probably accomplish more with one leg than most people could with two,” said his mom, Judy, an adoption lawyer.

Sam was visited by an athlete who has done just that — Jarryd Wallace, a University of Georgia student who competes on the U.S. Paralympic Relay Team.

“He assured Sam that a prosthetic leg is a chick magnet,” Judy said.

“I’m already a chick magnet,” said Sam.

Sam was also visited by Micah Owings, a Gainesville High School graduate who now plays major league baseball for the Miami Marlins, and was sent tickets and signed baseballs by Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Baseball is Sam’s primary sport, and with physical therapy he has been able to enjoy the game again. He also plays some basketball, and he bought himself a skateboard with his Christmas money, although he says he hasn’t had the chance to use it yet.

Whether he’s playing sports, joking with his siblings, or just running errands, Sam finds a way to have fun.

“Probably the best part of getting your leg cut off is getting to ride the scooter when you go to Home Depot or somewhere,” he said. “It’s, like, the best excuse ever.”

At church, Sam didn’t let his leg stop him from having fun on the rock wall.

“All of the sudden I turned around and Sam was climbing the rock wall with just one foot,” Catherine said. “He got all the way to the top. People were chanting his name.”

Although the accident hasn’t changed Sam’s sense of humor, he says it has given him a different way of looking at life.

“It’s weird to think that I should be dead,” he said. “So everything now is exciting for me.”

At first, though, that wasn’t the case. He had to adjust to a new idea of what life will be like.

“I was like, OK, this isn’t a normal 15-year-old life. This isn’t how it’s supposed to go,” he said. “But now, it’s cool.”



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