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Prosthetic leg will let Pier businessman return to fossil hunting

ST. PETERSBURG

Brian Evensen was looking for fossilized shark's teeth in ancient woods near Bartow when everything changed.

Evensen, 60, slipped and slid down a 25-foot mound in early April and cut a 2-inch gash in his left foot.

The crusty amateur archaeologist didn't go see a doctor right away. His girlfriend cleaned the wound and Evensen went to bed.

Within two weeks, his Type II diabetes made the injury much worse. First, antibiotics for redness. Then a podiatrist cut off Evensen's toes. Then the gangrene spread. At St. Petersburg General Hospital, Dr. Albert Li said the leg would need to be amputated below the knee.

This for a man who collected his first fossil at age 9, whose mad hunt for Stone Age relics sent him traipsing all over the state and gulf for 45 years, who uncovered the 12,000-year-old bones of a 16-foot-tall sloth at a construction site on Gandy Boulevard.

On May 5, the first of several surgeries took place. Afterward, the fossil hunter was holed up in a hospital for a month.

"In the wheelchair, I felt some of my life was over," said Evensen, who runs Lost in Time, a store that sells artifacts and fossils at the Pier in St. Petersburg. "I never really got depressed, but when I was going through those four amputations in a row, it was pretty dark days. I thought I was going to die."

Through a friend of a friend, Evensen met "Boston" Bill Hansbury, 72, of St. Petersburg, nicknamed for his thick accent.

Back in 2007, the athlete lost his right leg to a virulent staph infection. With a prosthetic leg, he reclaimed his life as before. Today, Hansbury runs about 25 miles and logs about 200 road bike miles every week.

His nonprofit Boston Bill Foundation provides prosthetics to people who can't afford them. Evensen says he paid $400 a month in health insurance premiums for two decades but his plan wouldn't cover a $6,000 artificial leg.

Over eggs and coffee, Hansbury and Evensen came to an agreement. Hansbury would give Evensen a new leg, as long as he would go back to doing what he did before. It was a short meeting.

"You just knew he was going to use it," Hansbury said.

Last month Mike Rieth of St. Petersburg Limb & Brace, which has donated its services three times for the foundation, fitted Evensen with the prosthesis. Rieth added a ball-joint adjustment so Evensen could crawl around the dirt the way he needs to. He adorned it with a white-on-black graphic of a sloth hanging from a tree.

The next day at his shop, Evensen wore the new leg and talked to a protege, Jeremy Welch, 18, about fossil hunting in Alachua County. He's raring to get back.

"In the ever knowing words of wisdom," Evensen reflected, "you don't know what you've got until it's gone."

Reach Luis Perez at (727) 892-2271 or lperez@sptimes.com.

Boston Bill Foundation

To learn more, call (727) 433-0065 or visit bostonbill.org.

Prosthetic leg will let Pier businessman return to fossil hunting 08/17/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 17, 2010 1:21pm]
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