September 25, 2003
When photographer Jessica Maynard lifted her camera and looked through the viewfinder, she wasn’t prepared for what she saw.
She had asked Jodie Spradlin to pose in front of a wrecked truck with a smashed windshield. Spradlin was balanced on one leg, having removed her prosthetic leg at Maynard’s request.
“What I saw through my camera took the wind out of me,” Maynard said. “I saw her standing there and there was such a powerful presence between us.
“I saw the harshness of what had happened. It was so raw. Everything about that moment was so raw and so real.”
Maynard started crying.
“Looking at those photos later, I really had to face my reality,” Spradlin said.
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Spradlin has been living with an amputated leg since 1988, but she has never been photographed without her prosthetic on.
“I live like this, but when I looked at the pictures … I don’t usually look at myself like that,” Spradlin said.
As she and Maynard looked through the proofs, it was Spradlin who started crying.
“It was a very emotional time,” Maynard said. “In the year I knew her, I never knew she didn’t have a leg. You don’t see that — you don’t deal with that every day, what an accident can be for someone.”
Maynard ended the photo shoot with an image of Spradlin lying in a field.
“I felt through the process of being with her that she is very much at peace with what has happened in her life and she has forgiveness for the man who did that to her.
“I saw the light falling across her face. I asked her to close her eyes, and I took that picture.”
Maynard had one frame left. She asked Spradlin to remove her prosthetic leg again. This time she had her hold it in the air.
“I thought that was a great way to end a photo shoot. We went through an emotional journey together that day,” Maynard said. “By the end, I saw her as more than a survivor. She was victorious.”
Spradlin was 16 when she lost her leg. Her family was on its way to Atlanta for a holiday dinner. Spradlin was asleep in the back of the van.
A drunken driver entered Interstate 20 from the exit ramp and started speeding the wrong way down the highway and straight toward them.
“He hit our van head-on,” Spradlin said. “The van flipped and caught fire. The police were there within three minutes because they had already been warned about the drunk driver.”
Fourteen years and a leg amputation later, Spradlin knows the driver’s name was Willie Bell. He was 54 years old at the time of the accident and worked for the Bossier City water department. But a handful of personal information is all she ever got from him.
Bell had five drunken-driving arrests on his record. He was driving without insurance on a revoked license, Spradlin said. Bell spent three days in jail and didn’t show up on his court date.
Bell was fined $1,200 and ordered to perform 20 hours of community service.
Spradlin went through nine surgeries in an attempt to save her right leg. A broken bone had sliced an artery in the leg and her foot was dying from lack of blood.
“My mom would never let them say the word ‘amputation’ in front of me,” she said. “But I couldn’t handle the hospital anymore. I didn’t want any more scars than I already had. I told my mom that I was at peace with an amputation.”
On Dec. 19, 1988, doctors removed Spradlin’s leg below the knee.
When she was discharged, her hospital bill was 28 1/2 feet long, she said — close to $300,000. Her father sold several businesses and cashed out her college fund to pay the bill and to pay for the first in a lifelong series of prosthetic legs.
“Now, it’s very normal. It’s not an issue. It’s been great that we can teach our kids, through it, about what really matters in life and about drinking and driving,” her husband, Chris, said.
“I don’t know if I can stress this enough,” Jodie Spradlin said. “Don’t drink and drive. I look at this picture of myself (by Jessica Maynard) and I know that happened, not because I got cancer, but because someone was drinking and driving.”
Since her first prosthetic leg, fitted to match her knee when she was 17, Jodie Spradlin has gone through eight legs. She donates her old legs to victims of land mines.
Each new leg costs between $12,000 and $15,000.
“I’ve had three babies on this leg,” she said. “My leg wears out or my body changes and I’ll start getting blisters on my stump.”
Her last leg broke while she and her husband tried to adjust it so she could wear a pair of high heel shoes.
“It was kind of funny, but at the same time we were thinking, ‘How are we going to afford this?'” she said.
Chris is a teaching pastor at Euzoa Bible Church. When Jodie’s leg broke, the Spradlins had just moved into their first house and they were surviving on Chris’ preacher’s salary.
“To be honest, I’m not worried about it,” Chris said.
Money for the legs comes in mysterious ways, he said. Four years ago, when Jodie needed a new leg, a motivational speaker met the Spradlins during a visit to Steamboat.
He had prosthetic ears and thumbs and when he heard about Jodie Spradlin’s leg, he told her to send him the bill for a new one. He covered all her costs.
“Because of our faith, I felt strongly that if we moved to Steamboat (five and half years ago, for his job) that God told us, ‘I’ll take care of this leg thing.’ God has always put people in our lives to help,” Chris Spradlin said.
Since this spring, several fund-raisers have been held to raise money for Jodie Spradlin’s new leg. Combined, they have raised $6,000.
This weekend’s golf tournament is being held with a goal to raise the additional $9,000.
Spradlin has what is called a trauma amputation — covered in grafts and scars, instead of a clean cut. Each prosthetic leg has to be custom fit.
“Some days I go about my normal business and I forget all about my leg,” Jodie said. “But when I get fitted for another leg, it all comes back — the smell of the room (on the day of the amputation procedure). They were playing Dire Straits’, ‘Money for Nothing.'”
Spradlin put on her new leg a week ago Thursday. The foot has a split between the first two toes, something she has requested since she was 17 but had never received.
She painted her prosthetic toenails and did something she hasn’t been able to do since she was 16: She bought a pair of flip-flops.
“I live in Steamboat,” she said. “I have always wanted to wear flip-flops.”