HOMEPAGE: www.danieljvance.com




By Daniel J. Vance


  On Christmas Eve 1995, diabetic Dan Adragna checked into a Santa Cruz, California, clinic with what seemed a nasty spell of flu. Rather, he had double pneumonia and eventually blacked out.

  "I was in a coma seven weeks," Adragna, 39, said recently over the telephone. "I've been told that doctors performed an emergency tracheotomy. The first three days my heart stopped four times. I had blood transfusions, a 107 degree body temperature, and kidney failure."

  At one point, hospital staff said he wouldn't last the night. Then gangrene set in and doctors had to amputate both legs mid-calf. Miraculously, he survived and in time learned to walk again using artificial legs.

  I first met Adragna this March through the faith-based nonprofit Wheels for the World. While in Ghana, we helped fit and give away wheelchairs, walkers and crutches to disabled Africans.

  Adragna uniquely manages the awkwardness others often feel towards his disability. "I use humor to help people feel more comfortable around me," he said. "I began using it immediately after gaining consciousness. I want people to know I am fine so they won't worry about me."

  Boy, does he use humor.

  "(Sometime after the amputations) I went to an amusement park in Santa Clara with my friend Brian," Adragna said. "I love roller coasters and the 'Invertigo' ride there does 55 miles per hour and does corkscrews and complete loops. So Brian and I sat down in an Invertigo ride car opposite an 8-year-old girl and her father. The bar on the car dropped down to keep us safe. When the ride began my artificial legs seemed securely attached and over them I wore long nylon workout pants.

  "On the first loop upside down, my one leg somehow went loose and flew off into the air. I heard it bouncing against other cars as it fell to the ground. Brian and I burst out laughing. Five seconds later my other leg flew off. My empty pant legs were flapping in the wind. The little girl opposite me was in shock and her father was trying to console her.

  "When the ride ended, Brain went looking for my two legs. One of them had just missed landing in water. I slipped them on and walked off like nothing had happened, though the ride operator did give us dirty looks. We were in tears laughing."

  For more, see www.danieljvance.com or www.amputee-coalition.org.