Special to Indiana Central News
By Kevin Arnett, of Sullivan
April 8, 2001, Adam Porter laid in a coma on life support at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis when he was just 17 - years - old. Doctors performed emergency surgery to stabilize his wounds so they could transfer him to Indiana’s only pediatric burn unit at Riley Hospital, the next day. Seventy-two hundred volts of electricity shot through Adam’s body, out of the back of his head and down his left leg, pushing Adam near death.
Adam had just moved in with his uncle Bobby Houston. Adam parked his truck in the driveway and noticed Bobby building a lean-to on his garage. Adam, being the supportive person he was, insisted he help his uncle. The poles were hitting some tree limbs and Adam volunteered to help trim the limbs away from the poles. But unbeknownst to Adam and Bobby, the tree was hot with electricity because a power line grew through the tree. When Adam cut through the tree branch, he was electrocuted and sent flying to the ground. Bobby raced to his neighbor’s house, who happened to be a critical care nurse who attempted CPR. Adam was not responding and laid on the ground lifeless. Susan Childress, the critical care nurse should have been at work that day, but her intuition told her to stay home. As Bobby called 911, Susan continued CPR to no avail. Susan finally clasped her hands together and forcefully slammed them down on Adam’s chest and that’s when Adam gasped for air. Fate kept Susan from going to work that day and ultimately, she saved Adam’s life. "Basically, (the electrical shock) killed him, and Susan, who is a trauma nurse, brought him back," Bobby said. "She's the reason he's here." Adam says “I owe my life to Susan, she took the risk and revived me. She had no idea if I still had electricity flowing through me or not. I owe my life to her”
Once at the hospital, Adam’s family realized how severe the situation was. Adam’s left leg was nearly burned off, and there was not any skin on the back of his head, the bones were showing through his back and shoulder. For the next ten weeks, Adam could not put any weight on the back of his head because his skull was exposed. Doctors were not able to save Adam’s leg from infection and had to amputate it.
Adam has vague memories, more like split second flashes of the accident and being in the hospital. “The next things I remember are blurry memories of waking up in the hospital with a tube in my mouth. My hands were tied down to the bed because I previously tried to rip the vent out of my mouth” Adam said, “I had no idea where I was, or what was going on. My vision and thoughts were foggy, and I was restrained. When I was asleep, I remember people telling me that I was in an accident and I was going to be okay, it was like a nightmare.”
Medical Social Worker, Jenny Homan (MSW/LSW) got to know Adam during his stay at the hospital in 2001 and said “He was a fighter from day one, strong-willed, very determined. He had a great personality, even when he got his leg amputated, he was still funny and made jokes”
At 17- years - old, Adam should have been devastated after learning his leg was amputated. However, as you learn more about Adam, he has stayed positive ever since. Adam’s first response to hearing about his leg was, “At least I still have my hands!!” Adam’s dream was to join the military and retire after 20 years. Adam had an appointment with a recruiter a few days after the accident, but never made it and was upset because he realized his dream would never come true. Adam dreamed of being married with several military brat kids at age 30 and once retiring, owning his own business.
Twenty-two surgeries later, Adam did not let the accident define his life. One week after he was released from the hospital, Adam went back to work at Jays Auto-World, where he worked prior to the accident. Adam has not stopped working since and has had careers in an underground coal mine, multiple positions in a correctional environment, and currently, he is a locomotive mechanic for The Indiana Railroad.
Why does Adam work when he could set at home and collect a disability check? Adam’s answered is simple, “Because I can work” and “my son is watching me”. If you have spent much time around Adam, you have probably seen him do most activities that people do with two legs, and even more. Adam has coached youth football for four years and it is common to see him throw his crutches on the ground, hop on one leg, and drop to the ground to demonstrate a technique or drill that he wants his team to do. Jim Pirtle, Sullivan County Emergency Management Director, “Adam has one of the most upbeat attitudes of an individual in his situation. Always smiling, joking, and willing to help in any way he can. He is just an all-around good person at heart”
Adversity has knocked Adam down several times in his life, but Adam has continued to get right back up, and fight back. Adam’s mom passed away unexpectedly when he was 10 years old. Adam and his sister, Autumn, moved in with their aunt and uncle. They moved to new schools and a new town. Being the new kid at school is never fun, “Most of the boys in my small class hated me. I was ganged up on and bullied pretty much every day. It was miserable. It wasn't until I got into Junior High that I finally got relief from that”, Adam said. Since the accident, Adam’s employment path hasn’t been easy. Adam isn’t the kind of person to work in an office environment. He enjoys manual labor, being outdoors, and working with his hands. Many times, employers shy away from even considering Adam, due to his perceived disability. However, the employers that have taken a chance with Adam have been more than pleased with his work ethic.
Personally, I have seen people surprised by watching Adam work on a car engine or help carry a heavy object. “Normally within a short time, my co-workers see that I am no different, I work hard, and I am capable of anything”, Adam said.
Amy Cobb, Sullivan City Park Board President, describes Adam as, “The most determined person I know, he is all about helping our youth and if there is something that he is determined to do, he will do everything he can do make sure it’s accomplished. Yes, he has one leg, but it has NEVER stopped him from getting something done! I have personally seen him walk through mud and snow on a football field, slipping on his crutches, just to make sure the kids’ field is taken care of”
How often does Adam get asked about his leg? “Not that often, most people around here know me and at least a little bit of what happened, but I want to encourage people to not shy away from asking me” and “I think people who don't know me are scared they are going to offend me or be rude by asking. Of course a lot of times kids are interested. I love their curiosity, but it's hard to explain things to them. Especially when their parents are embarrassed and trying to get them to be quiet. I have to try to explain it to the kid without traumatizing them and also convince the parent that it's okay”, said Adam.
Adam is the President of the Sullivan County Youth Football League which has over 200 players, 25 coaches, and keeps Adam busy year round. Adam also helps coach his son Landon in flag and tackle football. Adam is also a board member for an up-and-coming nonprofit called Hoosier Veterans, which aims to help improve veterans’ lives. Adam has also helped Duke Energy give electrical safety talks to elementary aged students as a public speaker himself.
Adam served as a volunteer fire fighter from 2005-2007 and only stopped when his son, Landon, was born. Adam has volunteered through his employer for “Santa on the Train” and building a home for a needy family. Adam also volunteered with emergency workers during the Indiana 2014 winter apocalypse (yes, everyone remembers that week of brutal severe winter weather). Adam assisted in locating rural homeowners whose power was out in freezing temperatures in getting them to safety from nearly impassable roads. Adam used his community contacts to acquire large 4X4 pick-up trucks to drive through the high snow drifts to reach the stranded homeowners.
When Adam was in Riley hospital, he would often see young kids, approximately 5-10 years old walking the hallways, in the elevators, some with no hair and pushing an IV stand. It was at this point that Adam knew he would recover from his near death experience and live a full life. When Adam would see these kids he often wondered, “Would that kid ever get an opportunity to live a full life? How long had they been sick? How long did they have to live?” When Adam was their age, he was outside playing football and riding his bike. Adam then realized just how fortunate he really was. It could always be worse….
After all this, would Adam prefer to have his leg back? Would he want to go back in time to 2001 to avoid the incident? Adam’s response “No, I would not. Don't get me wrong, I would love to have two legs again. I would love to run again (And I always hated running lol). I would love to go out and easily play catch with my son, but it has shaped who I am today. I enjoy being different and I enjoy the challenge.”
Adam, on how the accident changed his life, “I never imagined I'd be a single dad and still in Sullivan, but I'm happy with that. Raising my son is the greatest thing I've ever done. It's taught me that things rarely go as expected and that's okay. Go with the flow and make the best of it. I enjoy not knowing what's around the corner. However, I'm not satisfied, I still dream big and aspire for something greater. I believe there are still big opportunities waiting for me and Landon. I definitely wouldn't change it for anything.”
Kevin Arnett, “I wrote this article because people see that Adam lost his leg, but they don’t fully comprehend what Adam went through. He nearly lost his life, not just his leg. The Adam Porter story should at a minimum motivate you, because if Adam can overcome his unfortunate circumstances, then you can too. Are you depressed? Do you live paycheck-to-paycheck? Are you going through hard times? Take a deep breath and realize just how good your life really is…”