The speed. The rush. The adrenaline.
Since birth, 34-year-old Michael Asher was always known for being a daredevil. “I’ve just always loved speed,” Michael says with a smile. “Sometimes too much.” The Detroit, Michigan native had a special reputation for riding motorcycles with a lead foot.
But that need for speed caught up with Michael on September 1, 2016 as he was entering a freeway ramp too quickly and collided with a semi-truck that was exiting a freeway ramp. The force of the impact caused the truck to drag Michael along the asphalt until the driver could stop.
Michael was immediately transported to Michigan Medicine, where it was determined he suffered devastating injuries. Nerves in his left shoulder were torn apart, causing almost total paralysis. His neck was also fractured. Yet somehow, neither of those injuries were as bad as those to his left leg. Michael’s left ankle was shattered, and his foot was nearly worn away by dragging the asphalt.
After meeting with a team of doctors from various departments to assess the full extent of his injuries, Michael met with Brian Kelly, D.O., a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician specializing in orthotics and prosthetics, to discuss his best treatment options.
“Michael’s injuries to his leg and foot were severe. Essentially, I told him we could proceed with multiple surgeries in an attempt to salvage the lower leg and foot, but the chances of repairing the function he wanted were low,” Dr. Kelly recalls. “The other option was amputation.”
Although saddened by the prospect of losing half of his leg, Michael learned from Dr. Kelly that a prosthetic leg would actually be his best bet for greater functionality moving forward. Eight days after the accident, supported by the desire to keep up with his children, Michael proceeded with the amputation.
Less than two weeks later, Michael was fully immersed in what would become a long and challenging rehabilitation for all of his injuries. But the father of two young boys knew that he needed to persevere for his kids.
“Most important to Michael was he wanted to be an active father with his two sons. He wanted to give them a full life, while being able to keep up with them. One example is he wanted the ability to take his kids swimming in a wading pool without having to remove the prosthetic. He also wanted it to appear as normal to them as possible. In addition to supporting his family, he wanted to get into racing. This proved to be a challenge because of how the prosthetic components would need to function,” recalls Dr. Kelly.
Six months had passed since the accident and Michael knew he still wanted speed in his life, He decided to buy a 2013 Chevrolet ZL1 Camaro, a safer choice than a motorcycle. It was a stick shift and he didn’t even have a foot to use the clutch pedal when he bought the car, but he was determined to drive it one way or another.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about how I wanted to race my Camaro,” remembers Michael. Once again, Michael turned to Dr. Kelly for the solution. Dr. Kelly and his team set out to design and build a prosthetic leg capable of meeting all of Michael’s unique needs.
Michael was strong enough to begin rehabilitating with his new prosthetic leg. Thanks to its dynamic capabilities—along with a series of innovations made at Michigan Medicine he discovered that walking and using his prosthetic was easier than he had originally thought.
“I started off with pin locking suspension and graduated to a suction setup, which basically means I could have greater comfort with no pin attachment. Then I got a hydraulic ankle, which meant I could have far greater mobility,” describes an elated Michael. “I was just so impressed with how relatively easy it was and really got excited by the fact that I could race with it.”
Says Dr. Kelly, “He has an adjustable ankle that can lock into place, which allows him to put the foot at the appropriate angle to push on the clutch pedal. He had issues with the socket causing pain so he wanted a prosthetic that didn’t require a socket. A special surgery was performed at another hospital. What he ended up with is a prosthetic with osseointegration, which means the prosthesis attaches directly to his tibia bone using a titanium implant.”
I was just so impressed with how relatively easy it was and really got excited by the fact that I could race with it.
By June of 2017, less than ten months after his accident, Michael decided to give his 2013 Camaro ZL1 a try on a local track. The best part? He was able to use his new leg to drive a stick shift.
Says Michael, “The hydraulic foot worked out great. I can adjust the stiffness so I can keep the angle to drive on the track. I knew one way or another I was going to drive a stick. It’s a challenge at times, but worth it.”
As for Michael’s future, he looks forward to getting back to work as a diesel mechanic once he can stand on his leg for long periods of time, continue to race with his improved prosthesis and keep up with his kids and his family activities. He’s confident Michigan Medicine will help him with whatever challenges he may encounter in the future.
“I wouldn’t be here without Michigan Medicine. Not only did they save my life, but they gave me back my mobility in ways I never thought was possible,” states Michael.
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