There’s not much Delia Tafur remembers about the accident that left both her legs severed above the knee. She doesn’t remember the car hitting her or the helicopter ride to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ryder Trauma Center.
She does remember waking up from a coma three weeks later and realizing her legs were gone.
She has this to say: “I wake up every day happy to be alive.”
The day the accident occurred last year had been routine for Tafur. She and a friend had been running errands on Oct. 23, 2012, and the two were waiting at a Miami Gardens bus stop with six other people when a speeding white Nissan lost control and crashed into them. One person, an 83-year-old great-grandmother, died from her injuries.
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The man behind the wheel had a lengthy criminal history and is now facing numerous charges, including vehicular homicide and driving without a valid license.
The 49-year-old former basketball coach — who used to run four times a week, loved sports, had a passion for helping the community, and would get to the beach as often as possible — went through 11 operations to save as much length of her legs as possible.
In a tragic instant, her life was changed in the most devastating way. But she still finds a reason to smile. It’s hard to catch her without one.
She says her daily positive attitude is the result of one thing: willpower.
“Thanks to God, the recovery process has been going well,” she said. “I am very spiritual and because of that, I will continue to move forward. My mind still works perfectly, and I am not in a vegetative state.”
Tafur, who lives with her older sister and brother-in-law in Miami-Dade County, attends outpatient rehabilitation at Jackson Rehabilitation Hospital for two hours a day, three times a week. She stretches, exercises, and walks on her prosthetic legs.
Although she still is not able to walk on her own, she is able to walk well using the parallel bars or a walker, with some help from her therapist and prosthetist.
Tafur is learning to walk again with standard trans femoral prosthetic legs, which come with a mechanical knee. The knees are set at a one-time speed that cannot be adjusted, can buckle easily, and require her to exert a lot of energy.
Her wish is to be able to get two knees with hydraulics that control velocity and speed —providing amputees such as herself with more stability, control and confidence.
These computerized knees — known as C-Legs — use a significantly less energy than the standard prosthetics and provide a lot more opportunities for amputees to get around and do things like walk on uneven surfaces or go up and down stairs.
But the price tag is prohibitive for Tafur. Each C-Leg costs as much as a luxury car: $50,000 to $80,000, and she needs two.
“Getting those legs is what is most important to me,” Tafur said. “That is my priority.”
But she also needs help with other things, including home modifications, help with her medical expenses, a customized manual wheelchair, a van with a wheelchair lift and hand controls so she can drive.
After seeing Tafur’s sheer will and determination to move ahead, Cheryl Stoney at Jackson Rehabilitation Hospital, nominated Tafur for Wish Book.
“She is young and healthy and extremely pleasant and motivated,” said Stoney, a senior physical therapist in the hospital’s outpatient orthopedic and amputee unit.
But, Stony said, Tafur is at an extreme disadvantage because she lost both of her legs above the knee.
Still, “even during this challenging time in her life, she always has an ‘I can do it’ attitude,” Stony said.
When Tafur began therapy in September, she was walking on “stubbies” or foreshortened prosthetics the very first day. Stubbies are made for bilateral above the knee amputees, and usually the first approach for patients is to relearn how to balance and walk.
“She didn’t complain of pain or being tired or anything,” Stoney said. “She just wanted to keep going. She is amazing.”
Tafur’s dedication has been surprising for Stephen Dsida, a Jackson prosthetist who created Tafur’s prosthetic legs.
“Having been in this field for 29 years, the type of amputee at Delia’s level is very difficult,” he said. “She is in good shape, which helps her out. If she keeps this up, she will be able to do tremendous things.”
Although prosthetic legs never feel like normal legs, the computerized knees are the closest Tafur can get to feeling like she has two regular knees, Dsida said.
When the accident occurred, Tafur was with one of her closest friends Wendy Vasquez, who she has known for more than 13 years. The accident shattered Vasquez’s right leg in three places. But Vasquez says Tafur has served as an inspiration to her and that they continue to support each other through this journey.
“She has a great attitude toward what happened to her, and she is very strong,” said Vasquez, 45. “Not once did she fall under depression. She has a great spirit. A person like her deserves all the help she can get.”
Tafur says she will continue to live her life, and has no doubt she will be able to walk again. “I haven’t lost my rhythm,” she said.
“Two legs will not define me. I am going to show the world that ‘yes, you can.’ ”