The driver who hit him swerved hard to fling Tyler Ritchey from the hood of the car and kept going, leaving Ritchey with broken bones and injuries to his stomach, lungs, shoulders and knees.
His parents were beside him when he emerged from a coma after several days on life support. But there was no one at his bedside in Mexico who had been through a similar experience and was equipped to reassure and educate him about life without a leg.
"It was a shock to wake up and find that my left leg below the knee was gone," he says. "It didn't look good for me to be this active person anymore, the one who played basketball and was always busy."
Today, Ritchey's job as a health care professional for Pongratz Orthotics & Prosthetics in Phoenix is to help others, like Kirsten Witbeck of Tempe, Ariz., adjust to a legless life.
Upon closer inspection of Witbeck's new right leg, he says, "that's amazing. It looks just like your other leg. How are you doing with it?"
Witbeck, 26, has been fitted with several artificial legs since being diagnosed with bone cancer and getting an above-the-knee amputation at age 12. This one, with a rechargeable-microprocessor knee and a button for rotating the leg, is a technological marvel.
Phoenix vascular surgeon Jeromy Brink says people who undergo an amputation --about 135,000 are performed each year in the United States — face not just the obvious physical challenges, but emotional ones as well.
"Learning to use a new prosthesis is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical," he says. "It's (dealing with) the loss of an entire part of their lives and getting accustomed to the way things are now."
For patients who lose a limb because of an accident, the emotional loss may be worse than for those with a chronic illness that eventually makes amputation necessary, he says.
"A lot of patients I deal with are long-standing diabetics who have known the score for many years and are facing amputation as a last resort," Brink says.
Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, accidents and cancer are responsible for most amputations.