In 2010, Brooke Meehan (BSN ’05) and her husband, Tony (BS ’04, MS ’05), shared a comfortable life in Washington, D.C. College sweethearts who met at TU when Tony offered to tutor Brooke in calculus (or, maybe it happened the other way around—depending on who you ask), the couple moved to the D.C. area in 2005 when Tony, a graduate of TU’s elite Cyber Corps program, was offered a position with the Department of Defense. Brooke began work as a nurse in the ER at George Washington University Hospital; and after three years, transferred to the ICU where she balanced a full-time workload while pursuing a master’s degree to become a nurse practitioner.
But in February, a snowboarding trip to Breckenridge changed the course of their lives forever.
As Tony, an avid snowboarder, took his second solo run the morning of the couple’s last day in Colorado, he made a quick move to avoid crashing into a skier — a split-second decision that had him colliding feet-first with a tree while moving at 40 miles per hour, crushing his right ankle on impact.
“At the time, we had no idea how things would unfold,” says Tony. “But we knew we’d get through it.” He underwent five intense surgical procedures over the next two years to salvage his ankle. Though she took a couple of weeks off following the accident, Brooke continued working full-time in the ICU while completing her graduate coursework and clinicals, in addition to caring for Tony and managing day-to-day responsibilities during his recovery.
Despite the efforts of top surgeons and his determination to regain complete mobility, chronic pain and arthritis in Tony’s ankle had him frequently walking with a cane.
Brooke recounts, “His quality of life was terrible.” Trained to handle stressful and uncertain situations in the ER and the ICU, Brooke not only provided emotional support for Tony, but also coached him through his options for recovery. “I initially brought up the idea of amputation soon after the accident, and he remarked at the time that he might consider it if the pain became unbearable.”
“It was hard to deal with the accident for years,” says Tony. “Finally, it was like, ‘Look, I’m not going to be here forever, and I don’t want to feel like this for the rest of my life.” In 2013, with Brooke’s complete support, Tony made the difficult decision to have his leg amputated below the knee. To keep family and friends updated on his recovery following the amputation, Tony started a blog (www.snowboardervstree.blogspot.com) that chronicles his journey. (Photos on the blog document his surgeries in graphic detail, yet Tony’s trademark sense of humor highlights how his optimistic attitude colored his recovery.)
While choosing to amputate sounds like a devastating end to this story, it couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, as Tony states, “Amputation was not the end — it was the beginning. I feel better than ever.”
In October, Tony hit a milestone in his life as an amputee. Using his new running leg, he and Brooke ran the Army Ten-Miler — the couple’s first time to race together and longest distance he has ever run. He is quick to credit Brooke for her continuing support. “I can’t say enough about how lucky I was to have her in my life. With her background as a nurse, she coached me along over the years to help me walk through my long-term goals and led me on the path to making the decision to amputate. She was my mentor through the whole process.”