Devastating accident leads to life of joyful music

May 02, 2012
Courtesy of: Martha Brown

It was a sunny April afternoon and 15-year-old track star Martha Teeter was pedaling home from the town square, where she’d had her bicycle serviced and she’d picked up her dad’s photos from the small town’s drug store. It wasn’t a long ride—maybe a mile—and spring was showing off its colors all around her.

She was a couple of houses away from home when she heard the roar of motorcycles behind her. Glancing back she saw two of them, moving up fast. She knew they’d want to pass her, so she gave her hand signal indicating her intention to turn left, into her neighbor’s driveway. Then, as steered left, the first motorcycle hit her at full speed.

“All I remember is sliding down the street on my side, screaming and sliding.”

Martha’s big brother had been working in their back yard. He hurtled himself over the fence and sprinted to his little sister. “There was no pain. I was on the ground and my brother kept telling me to look at him. He was trying to block my view.” What her brother was blocking from her sight was Martha’s leg, almost completely severed from her body.

Martha, cocooned in numbing shock, remained eerily calm in those first moments. Looking back on it now, she smiles at how little she understood the situation. “They were loading me into the ambulance and I asked my mom to call my girlfriend and tell her we were probably going to have to go to a later movie that night.”

Needless to say, Martha missed that movie. Her next six weeks were taken up with excruciating surgeries as doctors tried to save her leg. “They would sometimes say, ‘We may need to consider the possibility—‘ and I’d stop them. I wasn’t going to lose my leg. It wasn’t an option.” But the devastation to Martha’s leg was beyond the power of positive thinking. While friends and neighbors repeatedly traveled the 65 miles to visit her in the Nashville, TN hospital, Martha alternated between intense pain and angry desperation. Who was Martha Teeter if she wasn’t Martha the track star? Martha the girl on the bike? Martha with two legs? She didn’t know who that person was. She didn’t want to.

“I remember my big brother, Jim, sitting at the bottom of my bed. He wasn’t a talker, but he sat there for hours, gently massaging my foot to try to increase the circulation.” Her voice breaks, remembering the love and sacrifice that surrounded her. “But nothing worked. My toes turned grey, then almost black . . .”

Her doctor came to her that day and told her there was no way to save her leg. It would have to come off at the knee. “I got so angry,” Martha confesses. “Someone had brought me a bottle of Coke, and I actually threw it at him. Thank goodness I missed.” She shakes her head, remembering. “That night my best friend came to see me. Before she left she said, ‘Whatever happens, I will still be your best friend.’”

That simple pledge of continued friendship helped Martha begin to understand that even if she lost her leg, she would not lose herself.

“The next morning the doctor came back in.” She laughs. “He was probably wondering what I would throw this time, but everything was different. I told him, ’I’m ready.’” That day Martha underwent her 12th operation. “I woke up and, for the first time in seven weeks, there was almost no pain.”

I ask her to tell me again about the stranger who appeared at the scene that day, a man who ripped apart his shirt and made a tourniquet around her leg, thereby saving her life in a moment of miraculous life-saving kindness. She obliges me, but as I listen, it occurs to me that the bigger miracle was the life Martha found after losing her leg. Though she’d never been particularly interested in music before, music found its way to her through a teacher who appeared in her life with the same miraculous timing and kindness. Martha went on to earn degrees in music through scholarships at top-tier music schools; today she is my son’s music teacher at his elementary school, and she founded and leads the internationally acclaimed children’s chorus, Voices in the Laurel, of which my daughter is a member. Knowing her story, I look forward to this Sunday’s concert at Long’s Chapel with particular relish. The voices of those children is a gift, but in a most unlikely way, so too is the woman leading the show.

“I’m not special,” Martha Teeter Brown insists. “I’m the lucky one. I get to do what I love every day. And that wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for that accident.”

Voices will perform this Sunday, April 29, at 3pm at Long’s Chapel. For tickets visit www.VoicesInTheLaurel.org or call 828-335-2849.

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