Twenty years later, Shawn Brown has grown to the place where he says the most horrific day of his life was the best thing that ever happened to him. Brown lost his left leg at age 21 in 1992 in a grain elevator accident.
Now he's trying to help other amputees find the same understanding.
``I really can't find any single negative about it,'' Brown said. ``Really, most everybody has that decsion to make, that fork in the road. They really can travel and trust that what seems to be this devastating event in their life is really going to be a positive if they choose to mold it and find those positives.''
Without losing his leg, the Homestead graduate would not have had the chance to become a two-time Paralympics gold medal winner in the discus. He would not have met his wife, Allison, a fellow amputee and Paralympic athlete who lost a leg to cancer, and they would not have five children. He'd probably be working as a farmer.
Instead, Brown is a certified and licensed prosthetist and orthotist and vice president of clinical services for SRT Prosthetics and Orthotics. Amazingly, he doesn't use his own life as an example much to his patients. They have to find their own road and he helps with that.
“Although the majority of my patients find comfort in having a practitioner who is also a fellow amputee, I don't always inform them the first time we meet,” Brown said. “I never want to gain their trust simply by lifting up my pant leg and showing them my prosthesis. Every time I meet a new patient, it's time to focus on their story, not my own.
“I have been an amputee for over 20 years. I have experienced almost every hardship that my patients are going through, and although I have the upmost sympathy for them, I also know how to guide them around the pitfalls that amputees tend to fall into both mentally and physically. I encourage my patients to have a `no excuses' attitude and to not let their amputation stand in the way of the goals they want to accomplish.”
Whining won't help the rehabilitation process which Brown says can take up to three years. Learning to use a prosthetic is a process, not an event, he says.
``It's a lot like the stock market,'' he said. ``From left to right, you hope it's trending up and always getting better, but daily we always have these spikes and valleys. You've got a process that's going to take upwards of three years until you can look back in retrospect and say, 'Gosh I can't believe I was there, look where I am now.' About the three-year mark, you're going to feel like I've got this under control. I've been out and I've lived life as normal. It seems like that's a round number that seems to help folks.''
As he says, Brown lets his accomplishments hang back in the shadows when dealing with patients because this process is all about them and not him.
``When I think about all of the people whom I've had the ability to touch, hopefully in a positive manner, the loss of my leg was peanuts,'' he said. ``I have a hangnail in comparison to what a lot of other people go through.''