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Stories That Move You.

Mary Free Bed amputee, Melanie Johnson shows off her Paralympic training gun

Melanie shows off one of the guns she uses to prepare for the Paralympics

by Mary Free Bed writer, Kate Snider

Melanie Johnson was just 5 miles from home when she was struck by a drunk driver. She was riding her motorcycle to her nephew’s football game in September 2004.

“I knew it was really bad when I heard the helicopter. I remember thinking, if they had to call for the helicopter I must be pretty bad,” she recalls.

Melanie broke several bones in her left hand, suffered two neck fractures, had road rash on her left side, and her leg was severed below her knee.

She was flown to Borgess Health where she was in an induced coma for four weeks. She underwent five surgeries on her severed leg. She remembers, “They kept trying to save it, but they kept having to go in and take parts of my leg off because of an infection.”

Eventually, Melanie’s left leg was amputated.

As soon as she woke from her coma, she was transferred to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital.

Melanie was an inpatient at Mary Free Bed for about a month. She explained, “They wanted me to stay longer, but I wanted to go home. I should have stayed. I needed more mental healing, I had more to learn, and I needed to adapt to my new life.”

Melanie’s medical experience as an EMT combined with her mental state at the time made her critical of her medical care and rehabilitation. She said, “I think the trauma from the accident, the tragedy of it all, and my mental state at the time caused me to look for things and people to be angry at.”

Despite her attitude, Melanie can’t remember a single day at Mary Free Bed where she saw a staff member in a bad mood. And she was looking for it.

Melanie described the MFB staff as motivators who are upbeat and encouraging. She said, “I wish I lived closer so I could be there every day encouraging others.”

Since Melanie’s miraculous recovery she’s had to adapt to a new lifestyle. She described it as a transformation where the old Melanie has died.

“This is a new me. There is no comparison to my old lifestyle. I’ve had to adapt to a new me, a new life,” Melanie said.

Melanie grew up on a farm and has always had two or three jobs. She doesn’t like to sit around or ask others for help. Now, she has to ask for help and she doesn’t work full-time. She tries to substitute teach when she can, but she needed something else to keep her busy.

Melanie was watching the Bejing Olympics when she first heard about the Paralympics. She started googling and when she saw one of the Paralympic athletes holding an air rifle she knew she had to get involved.

She said, “We always had guns and target practices at our farm, so that was natural to me. When I do something I do it right and do it big. I called the Olympic Training Center and talked to the Olympic coach. They gave me websites to go to and names of people to talk to.”

Melanie recently got a shooting coach, MSU’s coach Keith Hein, and she plans to compete in the 2016 Paralympics. She goes to as many competitions as she can. Melanie sits in a wheelchair to shoot but she has been fitted for a prosthetic leg at Mary Free Bed Orthotics and Prosthetics.

“I opted to stay with Mary Free Bed because of the great care I had there. I didn’t even consider going anywhere else,” said Melanie.

If you’re an amputee and would like to talk to someone, like Melanie, who’s been there, consider participating in Mary Free Bed’s Amputee Mentor Program. For more information about the Amputee Mentor Program, call 616.242.0396 or email

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