Friday, June 13, 2003

Seen the film Men of which Cuba Gooding Jr plays the US Navy's first black Master Diver? Well, the man who inspired the movie is also the inspiration for this week's Amputee of the Week.

Carl Brashear was born in 1931 to a sharecropper family in Sonora, Kentucky. He joined the Navy at the age of 17. He found himself confined to the galley, like all blacks and Filipinos of the era. But once he observed the specialty of deep-sea diving, Brashear committed himself to making that his profession, which was unheard of for a black sailor at the time.

Once admitted to the Navy Dive School in Bayonne, New Jersey, Brashear had to overcome the limits of a seventh grade education. He persevered until his ability and skill earned him equal standing.

In 1966, while retrieving a sunken hydrogen bomb from the Mediterranean, he was struck by a metal pipe.

Following two months of fighting infection and gangrene, Brashear told his doctors he could not spend three years in the hospital while his left leg healed. He made a decision to have the doctors amputate. After four operations, where more of his leg was cut off each time, he was left with a stump below the knee.

Despite the amputation, Brashear convinced doubtful Navy officers that he was capable of performing in active duty. He not only continued to dive, but he also earned master diver certification. In 1998, he became one of only seven enlisted men in history to be enshrined in naval archives, with a 164-page volume transcribing an oral history of his life and career.

Brashear recalls his return to fitness following his operation:
"Sometimes I would come back from a run, and my artificial leg would have a puddle of blood from my stump. I wouldn’t go to sick bay.....If I had gone to sick bay, they would have written me up....I’d go somewhere and hide and soak my leg in a bucket of hot water with salt in it - an old remedy. Then I’d get up in the morning and run."

For silencing my doubts over whether I'll ever be able to scuba dive again, Carl Brashear is this week's Amputee of the Week.

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