I Will Walk with You

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| This is the 308th story of Our Life Logs |


With tears in her eyes, she softly said, “I am glad you are here, Papito, and even if you’ll be in a wheelchair, I still want you to go with me.” I looked at my darling sister and told her, “No way. Not in a wheelchair. We are going to walk!”

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In August of 2017, my sister, Daniele, had asked me if I could walk her down the aisle at her wedding the next spring. It had been one of the proudest moments of my life. Then the accident happened, and everything changed.

I was born the eldest of four in Chapecó in 1970, a small town in south Brazil before we moved to São Paulo when I was very young. Simone and Ricardo came soon after me, and then when I was 16, baby Daniele was born. I was a very happy boy growing up, finding the positive in every situation. I likely gained that trait from my father who was always supportive and loving. He allowed his children to dream big.

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Little me on horseback, 1973.

For me, my dream was to explore my beautiful country on a motorcycle. I dreamed of rolling the throttle back and taking off down the road with the wind rushing past me. Cruising through the countryside, having lunch in tiny towns, and then back to the city—I could see it all. When I was 19, I made that dream a reality and purchased my first motorcycle. Over time, it became my passion and part of my daily life.

Outside of riding, I built a career in banking and started a family of my own, having two sons, Pedro and Matheus. Then my life changed when I was 28 and my father passed away. As a family, we surrounded each other for support as we grieved. Daniele was only 12, so I took care of her. She lived with me until she turned 20, and we became very close. Ever since I took her in, she’s called me Papito: little daddy in Spanish. Even in the despair of losing my father, I found the positive of becoming closer with my baby sister.

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Life continued and as my sons grew up, I started taking them with me on my motorcycle rides. I bought a big motorcycle in 2012 and since then I would go for rides almost every weekend. My boys shared the euphoric feeling from driving through the streets with me. I’d pop them behind me and instruct them to hold on tight. Then off we’d go down the city streets, laughing with delight.

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Me on my motorcycle, October 2015.

On October 17, 2017, I was riding through the city with my eldest son Pedro perched behind me. We weren’t going fast, just 15 mph. I turned onto a street and then I suddenly lost control. We started tipping to the left and reality seemed to slow down. In a moment like this, you understand what a powerful machine you’re sitting on. I realized instantly that if I didn’t do something, and fast, Pedro and I would get hurt very badly.

It’s a weird feeling. One moment you’re controlling the bike, the next you’re not. Realizing my son was in danger was horrifying. As the bike swerved, I grabbed Pedro in a reflex and threw him off out of danger. Unfortunately, to have the strength to push him, I had to keep my left foot on the pedal. There was no more time after that. My son was okay, but I had to sacrifice my left foot.

 The motorcycle crashed down, and I was stuck underneath it. The pain was excruciating, and I was losing blood fast; I kept thinking, “I’m going to die. I’m going to die right there in front of my son.”

It took 40 minutes for the first responders to arrive, but Pedro was resilient in that moment. He stayed by my side, whispering encouraging words to keep me from spiraling. I truly believe he kept me alive that day. The accident changed both of us. In my eyes, he was a kid before, but from that moment on he was a man. Although, I could see from the look in his eyes that he was having trouble accepting the reality that I was just a fragile human, not some indestructible hero like he used to believe.

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What followed were 27 days of hell, in which I had seven surgeries, five blood transfers, and four bacterial infections. The entire time at the hospital, the fear of dying loomed over me. It was a nightmare I couldn’t wake up from. Each day brought a new complication.

The doctors tried everything to save my leg. Every two days, I would go into another surgery, but nothing was helping. And given the wound, I wasn’t surprised. Trust me, it wasn’t pretty. While it was an exhausting time, I was still ecstatic every day to be alive. I told myself I had to do my part in recovering. I could not let myself slip into a depression or give up the fight. I had to set an example for my boys and stay optimistic and do my best to help the doctors.

After the sixth surgery, one of the doctors said to me, “Listen, Marcelo. We’re doing our best, but it’s going to be difficult for you to have a normal life. You are going to walk, but you will never walk normally. You will need many more surgeries.” My heart sank.

“Will I ever be able to run again?”

“Definitely not.”

In that moment, my whole world fell apart. I would never be able to forget, never recover, not completely. This accident would define me for the rest of my life.

“However, amputation is a possibility,” the doctor added.

“As an amputee, could I ever run again?”

“With a prosthetic leg, definitely yes!”

I let his answer sink in. “Can I think it over?”

“Of course.”

Ultimately, I realized that getting the amputation was my chance for a fresh start, the best way to move on with my life. Nevertheless, it was the most difficult decision in my life. Allowing doctors to remove a limb is not something anyone wants to be faced with, but I knew it was the best decision for me.

Going into surgery was terrifying and my nerves were at an all-time high. I second guessed my decision as they rolled me out of my hospital room. Had I made the right choice? How would it change me? Then I looked over and saw my siblings—even Ricardo who came from Canada—and my sons smiling at me, encouragement and love shimmering in their eyes, and I felt comforted and confident in my decision. Like when my father died, we surrounded each other. With their support, I knew I’d make it through this.

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With my family at the hospital, 2017.

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To my great relief, the surgery was a success! I knew I would have to begin recovery training soon, but now I was just anxious to leave the hospital and finally go home. When the day came, the staff threw me a party and Ricardo helped me get home. It was fantastic to have my little brother with me. I only wished it was under different circumstances.

Getting into the taxi from the wheelchair was my first realization that my life had truly changed. It didn’t take long to understand that, despite my optimism, I wasn’t ready for the shock: as the taxi drove onto the street, a motorcycle cut us off and my heart started racing. I knew then I would have to face São Paulo’s chaotic traffic for the rest of my life. I was terrified.

The next few days I struggled with the basic trials of daily life like taking a shower and getting dressed. It was hard learning again how to do simple things. Yet, like when my father died, I found something good out of a horrible situation. I thought to myself, I’m being given a unique opportunity to look at the world through a new set of eyes. How lucky am I to get this chance?

I was beyond ready to begin physiotherapy and become mobile without crutches. I hated my crutches; they made me feel so vulnerable and pathetic. I wanted to be able to go out in public without fingers pointing at me and eyes staring at me with pity.

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Soon after I came home from the surgery, Daniele dropped by to talk to me about walking her down the aisle. She had told me she wouldn’t mind if I went with her in a wheelchair, but I refused to make that a reality for her. I wanted to walk her down the aisle. I didn’t want the attention on me. It needed to be about her.

It was now November; the wedding would be in June. I had seven months to learn how to walk again, but I accepted the challenge with unfathomable determination. I told the people at my recovery clinic, “This is my challenge and you are part of it: I must walk with my sister at her wedding in June!” Whatever it took, I would keep my promise.

Recovering was a slow process, and I was forced to learn patience. I trained every day, in the center, at home, wherever I could. The clock was ticking after all, and I had a promise to keep! The physiotherapy didn’t just help me physically. Mentally, it helped me realize that I wasn’t alone. I met many people facing similar struggles or those born with a disability. Young and old, people from all walks of life. Seeing others like me made me see how lucky I was to have had this happen to me later in life.

It took months before my leg was strong enough to start wearing prosthetics. Finally, the day came when I got to put on my first prosthetic leg, three months since the accident. I now had about three months left to learn to walk again. It was tough, but I grew stronger with every step I took, thinking of my family to draw strength.

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Daniele looked breathtaking on her wedding day. Yes, I conquered my challenge! As we walked down the aisle, I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. I was so proud of my little sister. I was also proud that I was able to walk with her as if nothing had ever happened. Those who didn’t know of my accident didn’t even realize I was struggling. But who am I kidding? No one was looking at me. All eyes were on the beautiful bride. I simply was the proud person walking beside her.

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Walking my sister down the aisle, June 2018.

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When your life is thrown upside down by an accident like mine, it doesn’t just happen to you. It impacts everyone around you: family, friends and colleagues. People tell me today that when they are faced with a problem, they think of me and realize their issue is not that important. No matter how many times it happens, it still makes me smile.

At the end of the day, I am thankful for what I’ve learned. I will admit, right after the amputation, my only thought was “how can I get my old life back?” But as I moved forward, I was increasingly aware of different people’s perspectives, whether they have a disability or not. From the accident, I decided to become very vocal about the benefits of inclusion in my industry. I want to help those who need it most now that I am part of the community. Seeing how others with disabilities thrive inspires me every day to not let an accident define me, but instead challenge me to look at what we can achieve together and never forget to see the positive in a bad situation.

 

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This is the story of Marcelo Wagner

Marcelo lives in São Paulo and is Chief Investment Officer of Brasilprev Seguros e Previdêcia S.A. (part of the Banco do Brasil), a large financial institution in Brazil. In 2017, he lost his left foot and part of his left leg after a motorcycle accident. As he continues to deal with the physical and mental recovery, he became an advocate for inclusion, accessibility, and mental health support for people facing life with a disability. With the help of prosthetics, Marcelo loves running and cycling. He misses riding his bike and hopes to explore Brazil with a motorcycle again in the future.

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Marcelo, 2018.

 

 

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This story first touched our hearts on March 11, 2019.

| Writer: Jasper De Man | Editor: Kristen Petronio |

5 thoughts on “I Will Walk with You

  1. Thank you for bringing this story of Marcelo’s determination and the family that supported each other through overwhelming challenges.
    Marcelo- thank you for embracing and advocating for your new community of persons with disabilities. I wish you continued strength.

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