On a spring day in 1990, Mona Patel was walking to class at Cal Poly University when a drunken driver slammed into her. She was 17.
“I flew up about 12 feet,” Patel said. “And then he pinned me between his car and a metal railing, and that’s what smashed my leg and my foot.”
Patel’s body, and future, were forever altered.
Weeks later, when Patel got out of the ICU, she underwent her first amputation. It was the start of seven years’ worth of surgeries in attempts to salvage the rest of her leg.
Patel went on to earn a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees, and became a social worker.
But along the way, as Patel continued to struggle physically with her disability, she also struggled to find a support group for amputees. In 1997, with the prospect of another amputation, Patel made a promise.
“I vowed that once I got back on my feet, I would start one,” she said.
Today, Patel’s nonprofit, the San Antonio Amputee Foundation, aims to help amputees rebuild their lives. The group offers peer support, education and recreation opportunities, as well as financial assistance for basic home and car modifications and prosthetic limbs.
Every month, 30 to 60 amputees get together to shares stories and testimonies of strength and resilience. Patel estimates more than 1,100 amputees have attended the meetings.
“When somebody becomes an amputee, maneuvering through the system is sometimes just scary,” said Patel, a below-knee amputee. “I think the big catalyst of me doing what I do to help the amputee community is because I lived it.”