Republished with permission from our partner, AlloSource.
In 2003, 22-year-old Manuel Salazar had just begun work on a construction site in Georgia. In an instant his life was changed forever. A crane on the job site hit a power line causing 115,000 volts of electricity to pound through Manuel’s body. While one exposure to this dose of electricity would have been enough to kill anyone, miraculously Manuel is alive to tell the tale.
The horrific events that immediately followed the accident are etched in the minds of Manuel and the other workers on the site. Unable to immediately help their co-worker due to the risk of further electrocution, they were forced to watch him suffer unimaginable burns from his injuries. When help finally arrived Manuel was first airlifted to Doctors Hospital in August, GA, the leading burn injury clinic in the region. Here Manuel spent three months receiving skin grafts from AlloSource to heal his burns. It was also here that Manuel became a quadruple amputee, losing both his arms above the shoulder and both his legs above the knee. While these wounds were both painful and life-changing it remains a miracle that the lethal dose of electricity skated around Manuel’s heart and brain leaving him no mental or significant physical damage beyond the amputations. However, the emotional struggle was overwhelming.
“I didn’t understand why they had saved my life,” said Manuel. “I didn’t think life could go on.”
But Manuel did press on, after his stay in the burn unit he was brought to Colorado to undergo rehabilitation and therapy and to go to the Denver Center for Extremities at Risk. Because of the extent of his amputations, Manuel was a difficult candidate for prosthetics. On his legs he wears stubbies, short legs that allow him to walk in a shuffling motion, but his arms were the biggest challenge.
AlloSource Medical Director Dr. Ross Wilkins and the team at the Denver Center for Extremities at Risk used an AlloSource human bone allograft from a 57-year-old donor in San Diego to help build Manuel a shoulder. Along with skin and muscle from Manuel’s back, the new shoulder could sustain a more functional prosthetic.
With the new shoulder and prosthetic Manuel can now feed himself, brush his teeth, and even scratch his head, many things he could not accomplish before.
Next up for Manuel are improvements to his legs. New techniques that include inserting longer rods into the existing bone, instead of fitting prosthetic legs over the amputation site, are becoming perfected. He hopes to have functional legs that get him close to his previous 5’6” height in the next few years. Although his stubbies and wheel chair have hardly held him back. Manuel skis, water-skis, swims, drives and wants to go ski diving. He also opened an auto body shop called Progressive Auto Works in Aurora, Colorado.
Manuel admits that the first two years after the accident were very hard. At first, he was mad that he wasn’t left to die. He experienced personal setbacks but went to support group meetings and was inspired by other amputees who were walking. His therapists pushed him to his limits and he has always exceeded expectations.
“Now I’m just thankful to be alive,” said Manuel. “I want to try new things. I see life in a whole new way.”
Manuel’s caregiver CoCo Saltzgiver has cared for Manuel for more than four years.
“He has taught me a lot about courage,” said CoCo. “Life goes on and he goes on with it.”