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Leshawn Williams learns to cope with life after lost leg

Leshawn Williams, whose injury during a Northeast High football game led to amputation of his leg, is upbeat. “I’m not starting my life over,” he says. “It’s just a little setback, and I’m just ready to start walking again. I’ll be all right.”
Published Mar. 2, 2015

In the quiet home of Bonita Copeland and her son Leshawn Williams, life seems ordinary. A flat-screen television hums in the living room, where Williams, a walker by his side, sits on the plush red sofa, surrounded by Xbox controllers. But for the former athlete, adjusting to life as an amputee, nothing is ordinary.

Williams has been learning to cope with the recent loss of his leg, the path toward healing and never being able to play football again. The Northeast High senior defensive lineman severely injured his knee playing in a varsity football game. After his injury, Williams was whisked away to the hospital, where his life was transformed.

"Things were a little crazy at the hospital," said Jeremy Frioud, head coach. "Everybody was running around and nobody was answering any questions."

When Williams announced he could not feel his feet, Frioud called a friend who was a surgeon. The doctors discovered a blood clot.

"[My friend] told me, 'That kid can lose his leg if he can't feel his feet, and it's been 10 hours after the accident.' I guess the muscles can go up to six hours or so without blood flow. At that matter, it had been going a lot longer because he popped an artery in the back of his knee, which is what exploded from the injury."

Almost 48 hours after the injury, Williams was given an anesthetic and wheeled into the operating room. He needed an amputation.

Uncontrollable sobs erupted from people lining the hospital hallways. Family and friends wept in shock. They just couldn't believe this could happen to Leshawn.

"Words can't really explain the emotions you go through when you know it's your child," Copeland said. "All I pretty much did was pray that he was okay."

Frioud said, "Honestly, in the 13 years that I have been coaching football, I've seen a lot of injuries on the field. It was just like any other knee injury. The kid was freaking out and holding his leg, saying it hurt, and I was just trying to calm him down. . . . That's what it seemed like at first," the coach added. "This was just one of those crazy incidents where something just absolutely mind-boggling happened afterwards."

But throughout it all — the surgery, doctor checkups and prosthetic leg fittings — Williams has stayed positive and has learned to adjust to what he calls his "new normal."

"I'm not starting my life over," Williams said. "It's just a little setback, and I'm just ready to start walking again. I'll be all right."

Williams went from starting on the field to getting physical therapy at rehabilitation centers, and from learning defensive schemes to learning how to walk again.

"It's difficult going from two feet to one foot and hopping around. For a while, I had to adjust to it and it was kind of hard, but then I got used to it," he said. "It's hard getting in the shower with one foot. I have to get on a stool thing and slide in. It's easy now."

Williams has not had to go through this experience alone, though. He has received support from Olympic gold medalist Brooke Bennett, Paralympic athletes and military amputees. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have invited him to closed practices.

After a visit from 2000 Paralympic medalist John Register, Williams is determined to continue his athletic career. He can train. Maybe he can even qualify for the Paralympic Games.

It is not all over.

"[Register's] situation happened the same way that mine did," Williams said. "He had a blood clot. He was playing sports when it happened, too, and he told me that I could still do shot put and stuff that I like. All I have to do is qualify. . . . It's something I can do and with people just like me."

And his mother will be right there to support him. Always.

"Leshawn is competitive. . . . He's always been the quiet and humble kid, and I believe that he can do it."

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