Her name is Heaven Redd. She calls home Boerne, Texas where her mother and three sisters live. But she now loves her adopted Maine away from the Texas heat–which she loathes–where she attends the Hyde boarding school in the town of Bath. Hyde was the name of the founder of the famous Bath Iron Works just across the street from his old mansion where the school is housed.
Last year, as a freshman, Heaven made the varsity track team. She loves to run. She was winning medals and impressing everyone with her work ethic and her speed. She not only ran but did high jump and javelin as well. She is a good student taking senior AP classes as a sophomore. Her favorite subject is english. But when asked the oh-too-obvious question if she planned therefore to be a writer, she said not at all, she loved philosophy instead. Heaven is not overly modest about all her achievements. She has a healthy ego matched up with an outgoing personality but neither is overbearing so when she tells you what she is good at, you don’t think she is bragging, you are just pretty sure she is right.
When school ended last spring, Heaven went back to Texas and while there she was helping on her aunt’s farm. She was driving the tractor helping out with some haying. She did not get all the directions about how to handle the tractor down and when she started up a hill the tractor stalled and began to roll backwards. She says she was certain she was going to die but had the instinct to jump to try to save herself. The hill was steep and she started to roll down the hill too. The tractor hit an obstacle which did not stop the tractor, it just slowed it down and made it roll over as well. Now the tractor was tumbling down the hill after Heaven and eventually the tractor rolled right onto her. The tractor’s fender cut deeply into her left leg above the ankle almost severing her foot from her leg. She was in shock and her left leg was useless with the foot held on only by the achilles tendon. She “crab-walked” to get up the hill and made it to the dirt road where she collapsed just as her aunt, out in the pickup trucking looking for her, saw her. They airlifted Heaven from there to the nearest hospital that could handle this level of trauma.
Heaven spent the next four months in the hospital as they vainly tried to save her foot. It became clear that the ankle, even if saved, would never work well for her and sports would be out of the question. Heaven herself made the decision. She told them to just amputate and get it over with. She’d take her chances; staying the course and staying in the hospital had to stop. Besides, she had already missed fall soccer season and she was determined somehow to not also miss track season.
Connected to the Hyde school is Ian Gray who is a prosthetist for NextStep in Newton, MA. His mother had been an amputee for as long as Ian could remember and he never wanted to do anything else except help amputees like his mom. Ian’s uncle works at the Hyde school where Ian too went to high school. Ian’s uncle made the connection between Heaven and Ian to get a prosthetic leg fitted for her. Ian’s NextStep is widely regarded as the top prosthetics provider in New England and they built a walking leg for Heaven and got her back to school. But Heaven was in what she herself called “a bad, dark place” and everyone was understandably very worried about her. Ian became such an important part of her life away from home that her mother made Ian her official guardian. Insurance paid for Heaven’s walking prosthesis but they do not cover what they consider “optional” sports equipment and her mom could not afford such an expense.
NextStep, who partners with The Who Says I Can’t Foundation, asked WSICF if it would pay for a specialized running prosthesis for Heaven. I spoke with Heaven on a Monday and became convinced a running leg that enabled her to get back to the sport she loved so much was not just going to be good for her but it might be life- and sanity-saving for her as well. Two days later, she came down from Maine by bus and spent half a day getting the fit just right on her new leg outfitted with a fancy carbon fiber blade foot and a socket she decided to decorate with the logo from Hip Hop band Wu-Tang Clan. By luck, right then, NextStep and WSICF had a prosthetic gait clinic on-going for new amputees from the Boston Marathon bombing and Heaven joined in on that. When the portion of the clinic focused on running began, Heaven was still very tentative in her blade-equipped leg but within 20 minutes she was beginning to jog and in under an hour she was racing back and forth across the large room. The smile on her face was the first time she had smiled in five months. The gentlemen running the clinic, who coaches paraolympic athletes and hundreds of prosthetic runners thinks Heaven has the raw talent to get herself to the level of paraolympics with good coaching and lots of hard work. Heaven clearly has the work ethic to get there. It will be fun to watch.