Life beyond amputation

Written by Kerrie Alexander

Sunny Spadina has always had a serious love of the outdoors – skate boarding, BMX and dirt bike riding, camping and hanging with his mates.

Any mate would tell you that the vibrant young man’s smile and laugh are contagious and his zest for life is inspiring, qualities that are adored by his friends and family.

But it’s not just his charming and cheerful nature that has Sunny beaming on our front cover this month.

It’s the fact that even though this 20-year-old endured the trauma and heartbreak of becoming an amputee four years ago at the age of sixteen, he’s never given up.

His story should give those with full use of their body the inspiration to do more, be more and live life without limitations.

In 2017, Sunny left Year 11 to continue the family legacy by working in his father’s marine construction business in Maryborough.

Sunny and his older brother Jamie grew up in the family business, so operating heavy machinery was second nature to them.

When he wasn’t working as a Trade Assistant at the family-run business, he could be found hanging with his mates and being a happy, outgoing sixteen-year-old.

It was in December that year that Sunny’s life was flipped, turned, and thrown into utter chaos.

Sunny was driving a forklift – like many times before – when suddenly the forklift tipped on its side, landing on top of him. His foot was crushed by the sheer weight of the machine!

His brother Jamie, sprang into heroic action. With no time to waste, he jumped on another forklift and lifted the machine off his brother within seconds.

“My foot got stuck underneath and that’s where history began,” Sunny said.

“Luckily, we had multiple forklifts and my brother was straight on it. I was on the ground for about 40 seconds at most, Jamie used the other forklift to get mine off me and raced me to the hospital.”

Sunny underwent the first of many surgeries at the Hervey Bay hospital that afternoon.

“My foot was like a zip lock bag of bones that had been shaken up and mixed around. Everything was dislocated but no bones were broken, which was wild!

“The surgeon relocated all the bones, and put them all in the right spot, but I had major swelling, half my flesh was gone, and the blood vessels were crushed and not doing their job.

“I got airlifted from Hervey Bay to Brisbane with mum that night, and that’s where I spent the next 20 days.”

In an instant, Sunny had gone from being an active, outdoorsy social butterfly to be being bed-ridden with no sunshine, just a window to the bleak courtyard walls.

He said the one constant that got him through was the support, laughs, hugs, love and raw honesty from his family and best mates who gave him strength on the days when he had none.

They travelled from all over Australia to be there with him.

After enduring chronic pain and several more unsuccessful surgeries, his foot was worsening and a decision had to be made.

Let’s put into perspective that at just 16, Sunny was faced with a profound choice. He could stay in hospital for another six to 12 months, have many more surgeries that may never be successful, suffer further pain and trauma – or the surgeon could amputate below the knee within the next couple of days.

With his parents and family by his side, Sunny chose the latter.

“As soon as I was told that, my head went straight to the second option. I had to get out of there! My parents were by my side the entire time and they didn’t push their opinion on me but helped make sure I was making the right decision. Being 16, that was a big decision, but I would never go back and change it. I know I made the right choice.”

Before making the final decision, Sunny had a chance meeting with a fellow amputee, Harry, a 21-year-old who had undergone the same surgery three months prior.

The two got to talking and are friends to this day. Harry was an amazing inspiration for Sunny and to prove that life with a prosthetic would be okay, Harry used the stairs to race Sunny’s dad, who used the elevator, to the ground floor – Harry won.

“After that, I knew this wasn’t going to slow me down,” Sunny said.

Then the road to recovery began.

He said the first few months of being fitted with prosthetics and learning to walk again was “indescribably hard.”

The journey was made bearable with the love and support of those around him, including Kim, his prosthetist from Artificial Limbs and Appliances, who continues to play an integral part in Sunny’s recovery.

The people Sunny surrounded himself with were his lifeline.

“The first part of recovery either makes or breaks you,” Sunny said.

“It was really hard for mum. I remember her face the first time she watched me learn to walk again, she was trying to stay strong but I could see she was devastated.

“It was a bit emotional for all of us. Learning to walk was like holy crap! I’m back to square one, learning to walk again. It was only four or five attempts later that I could walk without any support.

“For me I definitely feel like the support was a massive part of me being happy and in good spirits. If I didn’t have the people around that I did, it wouldn’t have been possible. It really gave me the upper hand.”

When Sunny’s parents, April and Yulio, had to return to work, his Nanna Kate, made sure that home was as comfortable for him as possible.

Her endless love, support and great cooking made this period of time less stressful for everyone.
Sunny said one of the things he got most “hung up on” during recovery was the affect the amputation had on those closest to him.

“Mum took it pretty hard for the first 18 months and I can’t imagine what it must have been like for her. She has always shown me to look to the positive side of life, and I know for sure that has played a massive part in my outlook and recovery. Dad is a big strong man that I look up to and having that happen to him as a father played on me. Even in hospital … I never see dad upset about anything but in hospital he showed a lot of emotion and that’s when it hit that it hasn’t only affected me but everyone else around me too.

“My brother Jamie is great. He’s so stoic and strong and would just lift me up and throw me over his shoulder if I was struggling to get somewhere!”

The family’s fears were short lived. It was only a few months after his accident that Sunny took on a job as a concreter, one of the most physically demanding jobs around! “The hardest part”, Sunny said with a laugh, “was getting the gumboot off at the end of the day”.

His mates played a huge part in normalising Sunny’s injury.

“When I first got out of hospital, I had mates coming over and saying, ‘grab your camera we’re going to the skate park’. They didn’t leave me out, even with one leg and on crutches, I still felt included with my boys. “I couldn’t skate standing up but I could scoot around on a board on my bum, and film footage for video clips.

“Then I got my prosthetic, I could walk around the skate park to film which was awesome, and slowly I got enough confidence to skate again.”

Then came a job offer as an attendant at Rock Off Skate Park in Hervey Bay. It was there, with tonnes of encouragement from mates, that he first got back on his BMX bike, and before long he was landing tricks again.

Now four years on, Sunny is riding skateboards, BMX and dirt bikes, swims in the ocean and drives a manual car.

He now owns his own house painting business and climbs ladders and trestles on a daily basis, not letting his amputation limit his lifestyle.

His partner Isabella is one of his biggest fans.

“With Sunny, one of the things I love is that he is so motivated,” she said.

“The whole time we’ve been together there’s only been half a day he’s stayed in bed … even if he’s in pain he gets up and does something – working or tinkering on his cars or doing something because he loves keeping busy and staying positive. I admire that so much!

“People with two legs don’t have that much motivation. He’s got a reason to lay in bed all day and he doesn’t, I really love that about him. He motivates me to be a better person.”

Sunny said there are days when ailments like an ingrown hair on his leg (which can be brutally painful for an amputee) can get him down.

But there’s always something to keep him occupied when he’s having a down day. He loves tinkering on his project cars in the shed, a fun pastime that runs in the family.

“I already appreciated life. I loved life beforehand, and I still love life. There have been days that my leg was swollen, and I was physically unable to walk, and those are the days that take a toll. But it’s only for a day and there’s another one to look forward to tomorrow.

“I’ve met quite a few other amputees varying from late 20s to 70s and there’s people that you just want to give a little backhand to and say

‘snap out of it man, life’s not over, keep going.’

“It’s such a cliche and cheesy thing to say but life really is what you make it!

“If you want life to be shit, you’re going to have a shit life. You need to look at the bright side instead of the always looking for the negative stuff … if you do, you’re going to have a better life. You can’t dwell on something you have no control over and let it get the better of you.

“If you take stand, it’s a bad day not a bad week.”

What’s next for Sunny?

“I just want to make my family proud! My parents are very successful and inspiring for me. Jamie and I look up to them a lot.

“I have ambition and I want to thrive to be the best version of myself” he says with a cheeky grin, “regardless of how many toes I have.”