On August 22, 2004, 17-year-old John Tartaglio of Milford, Connecticut, awoke with leg pain. “It was similar to growing pains but more intense,” said Tartaglio in a telephone interview. “I didn’t think much of it.” But the leg pain worsened. After Tartaglio had seen a doctor, and while he was sleeping two days later in a hospital, his mother noticed her son’s arm turning purple. She brought in nurses, and he immediately was given wide-spectrum antibiotics and raced to surgery.
“And the next time I woke up, I was told both my legs had been amputated,” he said. “I had no femur bone on both sides. I was told I had a rare bacterial infection that had affected only 35 other people in medical history. Doctors and a leading prosthetic company said I would never walk again.”
Having such odds stacked against him just seemed to motivate Tartaglio all the more. He said, “I wanted to go back to my normal life and be a regular high school kid like everyone else. At first, (the rigorous rehabilitation process) was tough, but having supportive family and friends made it easier to go through.”
Defying his prognosis, he would appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show, graduate from Foran High School, walk forward with prosthetics to receive his high school diploma, and in 2009 graduate with a bachelor’s degree from Fairfield University. In college, he had an opportunity to use a special running prosthetic and compete in triathlons, road races, and cycling events. In time, Tartaglio became the world’s first double, full-leg amputee to run and finish 5k, 10k, and marathon races without using a wheelchair. Today, articulate Tartaglio is a professional motivational speaker.
In part, he credited his successful rehabilitation to being able to patiently accept daily baby steps forward. These little steps, he said, helped build his confidence to the point he now believes he can achieve whatever he commits to. He also said of his outlook, “I see myself completely the same as anyone else. That’s how I treat myself and (because of it) that’s how I’m treated. I’m doing what others can do themselves, but just doing it differently.”
Now age 23, he advised people facing a recent amputation to “keep people that love and support you close by, have a positive attitude, and believe in yourself.”