TURNER, Maine — Thirty-two-year-old Christy Gardner is a wounded warrior. She can walk, but only with braces on her legs. And it is often painful. Now, the former star athlete from Auburn is determined to run again. And she’s making a decision that might shock you. She wants doctors to amputate her lower legs and fit her with new prosthetic legs.
Eight years ago, Gardner suffered traumatic injuries to her skull and spine while serving overseas. She has little or no feeling in her ankles and feet. And what she can feel is often excruciating pain.
“There are times where I just can’t stand it,” she told CBS 13. “I can hardly breathe. I throw up from the pain. And my neurologist said it’s not going to get any better.”
In some ways, Gardner has come a long way. Her seizures are manageable. She can walk with the use of leg braces. And she volunteers and helps train service dogs. But Gardner says what she wants more than anything is to run and compete.
“The more I use my wheelchair, the less it hurts,” she said. “But I don’t want to be confined to a wheelchair all day.”
Gardner says her doctors at Togus “didn’t clear me to participate in a single activity this year. They said the legs aren’t bad enough to take off, but they’re so bad I’m not allowed to do anything.”
So Gardner made a decision. She asked doctors to amputate both her legs below the knee and to fit her with new prosthetic legs.
Gardner’s mother, Norma Heidrich-Crowell, told us her immediate reaction was: “I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry and just say, ‘No, you’re out of your mind. You can’t do this.”
But Gardner was determined. She said doctors at Togus gave their OK and sent her to an army surgeon at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
The first two times she met with the surgeon, she said he agreed to perform the amputation and told her that with the prosthetic legs she could be up and running in as little as six weeks. But on her third visit, that surgeon changed his mind.
“[It was difficult to hear] him say, ‘I can’t in good conscience take a girl’s legs, you’re too pretty to lose your legs,’” she said.
Gardner said she doesn’t have a clue what her looks have to do with it. She said another Army surgeon told her she should “be thankful you’re not a quad” and “should stick to your wheelchair.”
But Gardner said, “If I can get up on prosthetic legs and be more active, I want to be able to do that stuff. And I’m determined and stubborn enough to make that happen.”
Gardner has now found a private doctor willing to amputate her lower legs, perhaps as soon as this May. She thinks the Army will then be obligated to fit her with prosthetic legs, since she was wounded in the line of duty.
“She will be running on two prosthetic legs,” her mother, Heidrich-Crowell said. “And I don’t think there will be any stopping her.”