Mount Carmel man doesn't let leg amputation slow him down
MOUNT CARMEL - Gabriel Stever said if he isn't wearing a pair of shorts, most people wouldn't know he's an amputee.
Not that it's kept him from leading an active life. At 33, he's a husband and a father of twins and works full time as a fabricator at Ashland Technologies. He's on his feet at least eight hours a day at work; 12 hours when he's working overtime.
He hunts and fishes and is a volunteer coach for his son's baseball team; he plays golf when he finds the time.
Stever does it all with a prosthetic leg.
Formerly of Huntingdon and now a Mount Carmel resident, he was 15 years old and working with his uncle in Gettysburg when something fell from the truck in which they were riding June 14, 1996. His uncle pulled off Chambersburg Road and the boy jumped out, looking both directions before retrieving the item from the road.
"A car came up over the hill and hit me," Stever recalled.
He lost his lower left leg on impact - and was very close to losing his life.
Coma for 29 days
Matthew Henrich, a Coal Township patrolman, grew up with Stever. They played Little League baseball together and were on the Teener League All-Star team when the accident occurred. He recalled going to the hospital and breaking out in tears when he saw his close friend.
"It was really hard on me," Henrich said. "I felt very sorry for him."
Stever suffered two broken vertebrae, a fractured skull, a shoulder and arm injury and facial lacerations. Both of his lungs collapsed. He was in a coma for 29 days.
Doctors advised his parents to make funeral arrangements.
He said he has no idea how he pulled through.
"I had a lot of people praying for me," he said.
The accident is a blur to Stever. The only thing he remembers is the final two weeks he spent at Penn State Hershey Medical Center. Physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy followed. He had to learn how to write again, how to walk again.
'Didn't give it a second thought'
Stever is passionate about baseball and played in high school before the accident. He played on the high school team after the accident, too. His leg kept him from being a starter, but he was on the team, participating in all practices and logging some time in the hitting lineup or in the field at second base.
Henrich said his friend didn't complain and didn't seek pity.
"It was great seeing him back out there," he said.
Though he adapted to a prosthetic leg well enough to pick up where he left off before the accident, it took a little longer before he was comfortable at the sight of it. It wasn't until college that he began wearing shorts again.
At that point, he said, he didn't care what others may have thought.
Stever met his wife, Tara, in college. They lived across the street from one another. He was up front about his injury. It didn't bother her.
"I still remember that conversation. He said, 'I have a prosthetic leg, so you will probably run away now.' I said, 'No, my great-grandmother had two,'" Tara said.
She said her great-grandmother suffered from diabetes.
"I remember her losing one leg at a time from the disease, so for me, I didn't give it a second thought because I had some experience with it," she said.
Stever and Tara married in 2006. Their twins, Jace and Ella, turn 5 Thursday.
His kids have asked questions about his injury, about his prosthetics, but haven't asked for many details. He told them he had an accident. He'll tell them more if they ask as they grow older.
The kids have been known to take his fake leg, act like they're going to wear it, he said.
'Wow, you're bionic'
One of the prosthetics he has is a bionic leg. He got help from the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation to get one since it wasn't covered by his insurance. He hopes to get a prosthetic running "blade" to keep up with his kids at baseball and soccer.
"When he coached baseball last season, some of the kids asked what it was. He answered their questions. One kid even yelled, 'Wow, you're bionic,'" Tara said.
Tara said her husband struggles with his leg in the summer when moisture builds up inside the prosthetic, causing an infection. He tires from walking long distances, and arthritis in his knees can be painful.
The prosthetic itself can wear down. Maintenance for the bionic prosthetic can be tricky because it has to be sent away for repairs. They're replaced every five years or so, Tara said. Her husband may go through them a bit more frequently because he's always on his feet.
Stever said he's run into complications since the onset of the Affordable Care Act, saying it's been more difficult for his insurance company to approve a new prosthesis.
Using the experience
In 2001, Stever and Tara were in an accident. Their vehicle rolled over. It brought back memories for Stever and gave them both a scare.
"He was able to take care of me and calm me down," Tara said.
If people ask about his injury, he'll talk about it.
"A lot of them can't believe that I'm even alive, really," he said.
He doesn't believe he's treated any differently as an amputee, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have doubters from time to time. He likes to prove them wrong.
His experience has helped him connect with others.
Two years ago, a coworker was in a machining accident that severed several fingers. Stever was just 50 feet away when the accident occurred. They spoke on the phone from time to time about their injuries. He recalls discussing the phantom pains amputees feel in body parts no longer there.
And even though his leg is no longer there, he doesn't let that stop him from giving his best effort to live a full life, his wife said.
"Gabe is a very hard worker both at his job and at home. He enjoys hunting, a lot. If you asked him if he is disabled, he will tell you he isn't, although medically he is," Tara said.
"There are things he does that I can't even do, and here he is with a prosthetic leg and doing it better than me," she continued. "He truly goes from before the sun comes up until way after the sun goes down. He's an inspiration and is an amazing person."