Real Life

Boy racer victim: ‘My leg was severed’

In the dazed seconds after a car smashed into her, teenager Amy Duncan at first thought the blood she saw was from a nosebleed, and she laughed with relief. It was only when she heard her friend screaming that the 17-year-old realised her injuries were far worse.

Looking down, she saw the lower part of one leg had been smashed and almost torn off by the impact. Doctors could do nothing to save the badly damaged limb and shortly after the crash in Glenfield on Auckland’s North Shore, Amy woke from surgery to be told the worst – that her left leg had been amputated.

For ambitious Amy, who was just a week away from starting her dream career in the Royal New Zealand Navy, it could have been a life-shattering blow. But, as this brave teenager reveals in an exclusive interview with New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, the loss of her leg will not stop her from following her heart.

Even though she has endured four gruelling operations since the accident, Amy looks radiant as she sits in her wheelchair, talking about the night that changed her life. She and some Glenfield College school-mates had been celebrating the end of term and ended up in a gathering of about 20 young people at a park the locals call No oan’s Land, off oanuka Rd.

Although the area is well-known as a place that’s popular with boy racers, Amy insists she didn’t see any racing. Not long after arriving, she got a call on her cellphone and moved away from her pals to answer it.

“I went and sat on the curb while everyone else played on the swings,” she says. “Then, I heard the screeching of brakes behind me. I quickly turned and saw the car coming out of nowhere. I tried to move but I got hit. The brakes seemed to have locked up and I think that’s when the driver lost control. He tried to swerve away from me but he hit another car, bounced back, hit me, hit the toilet block and stopped.”

In those seconds, Amy had no idea what her injuries were. “I got tumbled around and I was lying on the ground. At first I started laughing because I thought it was my face that got hit. All I could feel was blood pouring down my nose. Then my friend started screaming at me, ‘oh, my God! Look at your leg!’ I looked down and started freaking out. I was going, ‘Somebody call an ambulance!’ Five or six people got on the phone.

“oy bone had snapped and was sticking out of my skin. I could see everything in my leg, which was just holding on by a couple of pieces of skin. “I kept passing out and my friends thought I was going to die. My friend Ellen made a tourniquet to put around my leg where it was ripped open.

“Even though it looked bad, I thought the doctors could just stitch it all up and give me a cast, but I got to the hospital and they started talking about amputation.”

Amy’s voice quietens as she remembers the conversation she had with the doctors before going into surgery. “Are you going to amputate my leg?” a frightened Amy asked them. “They said, ‘No, no, don’t worry,’ but just before going into the operating theatre they warned me that they were probably going to have to amputate after all,” she says.

Waking from the anaesthetic with her mother and brother at her bedside at Auckland Hospital, she still hung on to the hope that they had saved her limb. Then she heard the words she dreaded: “They amputated your leg.”

“I just lost it,” says Amy, who broke down in tears as the reality sunk in. At first, Amy was sure she would have to sacrifice her dream of joining the navy. She had been set to start basic training to become a communications specialist at the Devonport naval base the following week but now her future is uncertain.

“They haven’t closed the door on me. It will take some time to get up my strength to walk properly and be able to run with my prosthetic leg. After that I can be medically assessed and then it will be up to the naval doctors,” she says hopefully.

Amy has now been discharged from hospital and, showing courage beyond her years, is adapting well to her situation. Standing on one leg at the first attempt was a personal triumph and she has found inspiration in visits from Ruapehu eruption survivor and amputee William Pike, and a woman who has lost both her legs.

“I had no clue. She just walked in with her prosthetics and was so normal. Then she said, ‘I’m from the Amputee Society,'” says Amy. Amy also formed an unlikely friendship with another hospital patient – an 85-year-old amputee – who helped her to get through that gruelling first week.

There is inevitable sadness as the pretty young woman who loved to wear high heeled shoes comes to terms with her loss. With her beautiful dark auburn hair and warm smile, Amy has always stood out from the crowd, but now she is being stared at for different reasons.

“I was sitting outside the hospital and one woman walked past me staring at my stump, then she walked back again!” she says, shaking her head. But as she prepares to move on from her ordeal, Amy’s focus is firmly on her future, which she’s determined to make as bright as ever.

“I can get a prosthetic leg with a foot for high heels as well as legs especially for swimming, running and walking. I can be quite independent. “I’m just happy it’s not anything more serious like brain damage or organ injuries,” she says.

“If I hadn’t moved slightly just as the car came towards me, I would have been dead. “It really could have been much worse for me. I know I’ll get through this.”

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