'I had to come back': Calif. sergeant returns to work after leg amputation
"No matter how bad a situation is, there's going to be some good that comes out of it," said Sergeant Mark Addy
By Brian Rokos
San Bernardino County Sun
SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY, Calif. — Mark Addy is good.
You know it's true, because he says so.
And he knows it's true, because it says so right on his prosthetic left leg.
The San Bernardino County sheriff's sergeant had his leg amputated after an off-duty traffic collision in 2021. He said he never doubted that not only would he recover, but also would someday go back to work. After 14 months and 13 days, Addy returned to full duty in December.
"Of course, the initial thought is what is going to happen, but honestly, it never fazed me. I kind of looked at it as a new challenge," Addy, 42, said in a recent interview at the sheriff's headquarters in San Bernardino.
Addy sees a reminder that he has met the challenge every morning during the 20-minute process to affix the prosthesis below his knee using liners, lotions and lubrication. "GOOD" — the name of a podcast produced by motivational speaker Jocko Willink — is written on the titanium leg.
"No matter how bad a situation is," Addy said, summarizing the former Navy SEAL's message, "there's going to be some good that comes out of it."
Addy, who has been on the force for 21 years, oversees the station's scheduling, daily and overtime operations, organization of public gatherings, management of state-funded grants and traffic-enforcement operations — normal duties for the position that he performs without limitation.
To show how easily Addy brushed off the calamity like it was road rash, he was able to interject "a very funny story" as he recounted the life-changing collision that happened on Sept. 24, 2021.
Addy, a former motorcycle deputy, was riding his Harley-Davidson to the station on 3rd Street when a car turned left in front of him. His bike struck the left front tire and he was thrown over the car. Addy checked his hands and right foot. All good. But his left foot was disfigured. Not good.
Still, Addy found a sunny side to the ordeal.
"As I am laying there, I hear the fire engine pull up and one of the paramedics pulled up to the officer and asked her, 'What do you got?' I recognized his voice and I recognized it was a high school friend of mine who I hadn't seen in 20 years. That was pretty cool. He comforted me," said Addy, who attended Yucaipa High.
Addy's surgeon offered him the option of amputating a few toes and a lifetime of painful, limited walking, or amputating the leg below the knee. Addy didn't hesitate.
"With the advances in prosthetics, there was no limit to what you could achieve. So it was a no-brainer for me," he said.
But the initial reaction from family and friends was deep concern.
"I just remembered being devastated for him because he's such a physical person," said his wife, Laura, 40, a lieutenant in the sheriff's corrections bureau who noted that her husband completed a 100-mile mountains-to-beach bicycle ride only two days before the collision. "I remember thinking how awful it was that his life was going to be different and wondering how different it was going to be."
Addy's cycling buddy and sheriff's cycling team partner, Capt. John Walker, 51, who oversees the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga, said, "I was just literally grateful that he was alive."
Walker wondered what the amputation would do to Addy mentally, physically and professionally.
Addy said his biggest worry was not for himself, but that his daughters, now ages 14 and 12, would be embarrassed by their handicapped father.
But Laura Addy and Walker knew him well enough that they believed a comeback was within reach.
He comes from a family of cowboys who raise cattle and pack meat.
"They were the real deal," Laura Addy said. "Their mentality is real tough."
How tough? She told the story of her husband, when he was 3, falling into a hole in the backyard.
"(His stepfather) turned around, and Mark was gone. All he could see were two little cowboy boots sticking up. He pulled him out. He just stood up and walked away. He never complains."
Walker said competitive cycling can be uncomfortable because of the pace, weather and terrain, but that Addy was always up to that test.
"You get to see what someone's breaking point is and their will just to never quit," Walker said.
"That's the amazing part of this whole story. I've never seen Mark with a negative attitude. ... I truly believe it was his mindset that helped him get through this. Not once was it 'Woe is me,' " he said.
'I never doubted'
Addy's confidence in his fitness and a hospital visit from a colleague launched his recovery.
Addy has always eaten a healthy diet and works out every day. He began riding motocross at age 7. Addy survived two broken necks suffered while riding.
After just four days in the hospital, Addy was sent to physical therapy.
"I went to one session, and I told them I could do it myself," he said. "I knew when they told me there were going to take my leg, I never doubted that I could come back, especially with my wife and family being there for me."
Capt. Jim Considine, 61, who supervises the Central Detention Center, understood intimately the road ahead for Addy. In 1997, Considine was hit four times by fire from an assault rifle during a traffic stop near Victorville. Injuries to his right leg prompted him to retire. He kept the leg for five years before having it amputated. Two years later, Considine returned to duty. He passed SWAT school and was promoted to investigator, corporal, sergeant and then lieutenant before making captain.
Considine visited Addy at Loma Linda University Medical Center on the day of the collision. He showed Addy his leg and discussed what lay ahead. Considine, who prefers to wear shorts, said children stare at him and call him a Transformer, pirate and RoboCop.
"I just let him know that it's not the end of the world and I know it's a life-changing situation, but it wouldn't be as devastating as most people think. (Prosthetics have) come a long way. It's not the wooden pirate's leg of the 1800s. Knowing Mark as I did, I knew it wouldn't be a problem," Considine said.
Said Addy: "Seeing him set the bar so high, I had to come back."
The one setback came in January 2022 when Addy was briefly hospitalized for a blood clot in his left leg and both lungs, COVID-19 and pneumonia. He has also made one concession, giving up his motorcycle because of a promise he made to his daughters.
Returning to his bicycle provided normalcy and allowed Addy to spend time with friends. There is plenty of movement in the carbon fiber ankle, although it won't give when Addy walks on a rock. Addy also runs a mile on a treadmill each day and works out in his Rancho Cucamonga home on the dumbells that his wife purchased after the collision.
"As soon as he got a leg he went to the gym," she said. "He's an animal. He's like the same little kid who fell in the hole. Just stand him up."
Addy said he now could chase a suspect on foot. It's difficult to notice any limp.
"You want to race?" he said.
And his concerns about his daughters being embarrassed proved unfounded.
"They're not biased against anybody with a disability, 'cuz their dad is (disabled). So they look at people differently, and it makes them better people," Addy said.
Now it's Addy who is embarrassed, when he is called an inspiration.
"All the deputies look up to him," said Kaysie Smith, a lieutenant who supervises Addy. "I call him a hero. 'Cuz he is, just listen to him. It makes you as a human being look at life differently because of Mark's positive attitude."
Walker recently tweeted a photo of them riding together. Walker said he is trying to catch up.
"Here I am, fully capable, and he's still kicking my butt. Even with one leg, he's still more capable than most of us, way more determined and (with) a positive attitude during all of it," Walker said.
"I guess you could say he has it good."
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