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On Christmas Eve 1995, diabetic Dan Adragna checked into a Santa Cruz, California, clinic with what seemed a nasty spell of flu, except he had double pneumonia and would black out.
“I was in a coma about seven weeks,” said then 39-year-old Adragna in a telephone interview. “I was told later that doctors performed an emergency tracheotomy. During the first three days, my heart stopped beating four times. I had blood transfusions, a 107-degree temperature, and kidney failure.”
At one point, hospital staff said he wouldn’t last the night. Finally, gangrene set in and doctors had to amputate both legs mid-calf. Miraculously, he survived, and eventually learned to walk again using artificial legs.
Adragna has a unique way of managing the awkwardness people often feel towards his artificial legs. “I use humor to help people feel more comfortable,” he said. “I began using it immediately after gaining consciousness. I want people to know I am fine, so they won’t worry about me.”
Boy, does he use humor.
Sometime after the amputations, Adragna “went to an amusement park in Santa Clara with my friend Brian,” he said. “I love roller coasters and the ‘Invertigo’ ride there does 55 miles per hour and does corkscrews and complete loops. Brian and I sat down in an Invertigo ride car opposite an 8-year-old girl and her father. The bar on the car dropped down to keep us safe. When the ride began my artificial legs seemed securely attached, and I wore long nylon workout pants over them.
“On the first loop upside down, one of my legs somehow loosened and flew off into the air. I heard it bounce against other cars and fall to the ground. Brian and I burst out laughing. Five seconds later, my other leg flew off. My empty pants legs were flapping in the wind. The little girl opposite me was in shock and her father was trying to console her. When the ride ended, Brian went looking for my two legs. One had just missed landing in the water. I slipped them on and walked off like nothing had happened, though the ride operator did give us dirty looks. We were in tears laughing.”