Matthew Brewer: Double Above-Knee Amputee Finds Restored Mobility and Newfound Passion for Life
Learning to live and walk again as a double above-knee amputee can be overwhelming, but it is possible. Years after his amputations, Matthew Brewer is now walking independently and enjoying sports again with custom lower limb prosthetic devices.
Matthew grew up enjoying a very active childhood in Huntington Beach. He loved spending time with his friends and playing sports. Surfing, skateboarding, BMX bike-riding, and snowboarding were a few of his favorites. He even competed in snowboarding and was ranked 14th in the nation in 1998 by the U.S. Amateur Snowboard Association.
Then, at age 33, everything changed when Matthew was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He faced surgery, chemotherapy, daily nausea, and extreme pain. He felt self-doubt and worried he would not live a long life. Matthew suppressed his emotions with drugs, which eventually led to an addiction and an overdose. Eighteen hours after Matthew’s overdose, his roommate found him unconscious and called for help. “I remember the paramedics being there, asking if I could move my legs. When I couldn’t, I started to panic.” Doctors later informed Matthew and his family that he would need to have both his legs amputated to save his life.
For two-and-a-half years after his amputation, Matthew used opioids to manage his pain. To his family, the once vibrant and energetic star was unrecognizable and looked comatose. Then, by chance, Matthew’s sister Tera was able to get him an opportunity to appear on the syndicated television show, The Doctors. The show’s experts introduced Matthew to transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to wean him off drugs and treat his deep depression. “To my surprise, it was like a light switch turned on. I finally had the desire for so much more in life.”
New Life with Prosthetic Devices
Matthew was then introduced to an AMPOWER peer visitor who offered support, knowledge and friendship. Despite having prosthetic devices, Matthew wasn’t yet mobile, so his peer visitor introduced Matthew to Hanger Clinic’s Bilateral Above Knee Amputee (BAKA) Bootcamp.
With his sister, Tera, by his side, Matthew took a leap of faith and traveled to BAKA Bootcamp. Navigating the airport presented more obstacles than Matthew or his sister ever imagined. Tera was determined not to let her brother give up. After arriving at his destination, Matthew met Cameron Clapp, a young amputee on his way to BAKA Bootcamp who was missing both legs and one arm. Cameron’s mobility and enthusiasm inspired Matt. His spirits were renewed.
“Attending BAKA Bootcamp was life changing. It pushed me to try harder and taught me what was possible with hard work and determination.”
After bootcamp, Matt was fit for prosthetic legs at Hanger Clinic.
Empowered Through Sports
“The combination of support from Hanger Clinic and BAKA Bootcamp gave me the blueprint to be able to walk and provided me with peer support, guidance, and a new family of mentors to help me achieve my goals. I felt motivated to pursue the sports I once loved and try new ones.”
Matthew participated in the swimming and running events in the Angel City Games, and he earned a gold medal. “I’ll never forget the first time I slipped on the Angel City Games shirt that read ‘ATHLETE’ across the back. I was flush with pride and knew anything was possible going forward.” With his newfound confidence, Matthew went on to explore what else he could do–surfing in the US Adaptive Surf Championship and swimming one mile in the ocean at the Challenged Athletes Foundation San Diego Triathlon Challenge. With his memories of growing up skiing and snowboarding, he went to the mountains in Utah and Colorado where he learned how to monoski. He discovered a new love for sled hockey and is now playing on the LA Kings’ sled hockey team.
“I’m driven by the challenges in adaptive sports. It gives me something to look forward to and is an asset to stay physically and mentally healthy. There are still daily challenges. I’m always thinking three steps ahead. If I come across a place with steps but no handrail, how will I get down them? I am thankful I have my prosthetic system to maneuver through my day. I’ve learned to be more empathetic, patient, and grateful.”
Great Adventure Awaits
In addition to his love for sports, Matthew loves to travel with his girlfriend, Wendy. “The thrill of traveling outweighs the fear of the unknown. Wendy and I recently returned from a trip to Wyoming. I now feel comfortable traveling through the airport with my microprocessor-controlled prosthetic knees, walking down ramps and stairs, and going through extra security checks. I used my complete prosthetic system for most of the trip. One evening, we hiked down to the lake, and to tackle the rough terrain, I put on stubbies [short prosthetic legs with special feet used for training and greater stability]. I love having the right tools so I can continue to explore and enjoy new activities.”
“My advice to anyone starting their journey is to reach out, get support, and really use it. I still struggle with self-doubt, even when I am successful and making progress. Amputee support groups, my family, and the staff and ambassadors at Hanger Clinic gave me my life back.”
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