When 2nd Battalion 5th Marines came out to provide security, Kirstie was thrown into the back of another helicopter. “I remember being told not to close my eyes again because I wouldn’t open them back up. I had a picture of my mom, dad, and sister in my breast pocket - I always flew with it. I just stared at a cabin overhead light and told myself I wasn’t going to die without seeing my sister."
Kirstie's wounds were catastrophic. She suffered traumatic injuries to her brain, spine and face, as well as severe damage to her shoulders and one of her legs. Three years and more than 30 surgeries later, her lower left leg had to be amputated. A few months on, a second amputation had to be performed to remove the remainder of the limb above the knee due to infection.
“Once all of the wounds healed, it took about a month for the staples, stitches, and wound vac to come off,” Kirstie recalls. “It didn’t take me too long to get back on my feet. I was hellbent on getting out of there though, so I worked my ass off until physical therapy would actually let me take my prosthetic home.” It took her two weeks – a feat doctors would say is almost unheard of. But the real battle was still to come.
“Being an above the knee amputee is like being a toddler all over again,” Kirstie explains. “You have to learn absolutely everything – balance, walking, running, adjusting to different terrain. Even just learning to trust the prosthetics takes time. I would be lying if I said it were easy, or if I said it was pain free."
A lifelong athlete (and Colorado-based), Kirstie learnt to snowboard during her recovery and found she had real talent: "Snowboarding may have come naturally because I didn’t have any bad habits to break, or anything to compare it to for that matter. The hardest part about it was learning to transition and being comfortable with putting my weight forward onto my prosthetic. Luckily, I have a really amazing prosthetic knee with hydraulics built into it. Being able to adjust the resistance is extremely useful.