Max Gomez was 18 when he had to have his right leg amputated after a dirt bike racing accident. Instead of getting it into his mind and becoming depressed, he saw the injury as just another challenge to get over with. Fired up by such a positive outlook in life, it took Max a relatively short time to progress from wheelchair to crutches to artificial limb. Building his strength little by little, Max soon found himself up and running (literally) in no time! Inspired to inspire other people with his journey, Max is now studying to be a PT and plans to start a fitness-related business someday. Spoiler alert: Yes, he did get back to dirt biking and he’s rocking it. Listen in as he shares this amazing story on Expect Miracles with Dr. Kevin Pecca.
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Amputation Redemption With Max Gomez
Life After Leg Amputation
We have truly an amazing person, an amazing story and one of the reasons why I created this show. We have Max Gomez. He has an incredible story. He’s a strong person, grateful for every day of his life. It was such an honor to sit down and hear his story, what he’s been through and all the great stuff he’s doing now and what he is doing with his life after a leg amputation. He was a dirt bike rider and dirt bike racer. He got into an accident and at that time, he wasn’t even sure if they were going to amputate it. As the day progress, it got more serious and before you know it, he was sitting in the hospital bed. The doctors came in and they said that they’re going to have to amputate his leg. I’m going to leave it with that and let Max tell the story. He’s inspiring. He’s doing great things. I’m grateful to have him on the show and for him to share his story. You are going to enjoy it.
We have a special guest, Max Gomez. I’m excited to have him on the show here because he has been through a hell of a lot. You're about to find out why. He's making the most of everything. His story is inspiring and it's getting started. Max, how are you?
I'm doing well. I appreciate it. Thank you for the opportunity.
Where are you from originally? What were you into growing up as a kid?
I'm originally from New York. My parents still have a house there. I don't spend too much time up there anymore. My parents met in Belmar, New Jersey. My mom has got a lot of emotional connections down here. Many years ago, she rented an apartment down here. At the same time, I found myself venturing out of New York. I went to Brookdale Community College. It worked well for me to move in here and separate myself from New York a little bit. I went to Kean. I started working down here and now I'm down here full-time. I enjoy it. As much as New York is great, it's nice to get away a little bit.
What part of New York are you from?
New Rochelle, Westchester.
What were you into growing up as a kid? This is a good segue to lead to everything that happened.
When I was young, my parents were well-rounded. They always threw me into different things, whether it was baseball or football. I tried them all. For my fourth birthday, my dad was always into motorsports, motorcycles, jet skis and cars. He got me a small little motorcycle to see how I was going to react to it. I took a liking to it immediately, better than baseball or basketball. From the age of 5 or 6, we dedicated more time to that as opposed to the other sports. I made it a bonding thing with my dad because I would ride my little dirt bike to the park and he would chase me down on his bicycle so he would get his cardio in. We made it a fun thing. In the beginning, it was a lot of fun and it became more and more fun from there. As it expanded, we would travel.
I would go to school Monday through Friday and then I always knew on the weekends, we were going to go away. Whether it be in PA or New Hampshire north or south, we would go wherever. I would do these fairly big races, but they were never anything too crazy. When I turned eighteen, I decided to try to qualify for this big pro-national and now was out in PA. It was the second round. If I would have ended up completing the race, I would have gone on to the main national in Tennessee. This one, at this particular race, it was the 2nd or 3rd race of the day because I would do a couple of different classes. I didn't get as good of a star and I knew I needed to make a lot of passes.
Before you go on, did you have any weird feeling that day or felt like a regular day or more nervous or anything going on inside like, “This is a little different?”
It's weird how these things happen now in retrospect and I think back on it. I felt suspiciously good that day. It was almost like I wasn't nervous. I felt good and confident. Normally, it's a nerve-wracking thing. You're on a gate. The way the races work is everybody starts in one spot on a gate. The gate goes down and if it's a full gate, there are 40 guys. The first couple of turns are intense. You're banging into people. Usually, my anxiety is through the roof because I'm waiting. That day, I felt good. My confidence was off. I went for a run in the morning to get my blood falling. At that time, I went for that run and little did I know, that would be one of my last runs that I ever went on with two legs. You don't think about those things.
How did the first race go?
They all went well. I was doing well. It was the 3rd or 4th race of the day. I didn't get the best start. I knew I had to make some passes. That track was a little dusty. It was tough to get around people because when it's dusty, you slide and there's only one good mainline. They keep the dust down. They were watering the track and the face of one of these big jumps and the track was hard-packed. When you put some water down on that hard pack stuff, it gets slick, like icy. I was coming up to this jump and I could see the shine. I knew they watered it and it was going to be a little slick. At that time, I was in 4th or 5th, there were 30 people behind me and I was like, “I'm not going to get landed on.”
You've had people land on top of you?
Yeah. My list of injuries is like I could write a book. I'm coming up to the jump. My wheels started to spin a little bit and I knew in my mind, “I don't know.” You can gauge your speed. I knew I didn't have enough to get over, but I was like, “I'm going to go for it because if I didn't, I knew somebody was going to land on me. If I don't make it all the way over, I’ll buckle it.” That was the thought that was going through my head. I had the gas and to try to get any little bit. I’m right at the top and I hit it like that. I knew it was going to happen and it kicked me.
You land, it happens. What's your immediate thought process? What do you think is going on?
Me, being a dumb eighteen-year-old kid, I'm mad at myself that I threw away the race. That was the only thing that went through my head. I didn't care about the pain. It hurt badly, but I was like, “I couldn't believe it. I was doing well. I was in a position that I could have stayed in the spot I was. I didn't have to pass the guy in front of me. It could have ridden conservative, but me being a dumb kid, I throw it away.” That was all I thought about. Meanwhile, little did I know the problems that were going to ensue. I take my helmet off. I'm sitting there on the side and I'm bombed out. I was in excruciating pain, but the anger inside of me took over. I'm there waiting for the medic. They came over. I go over to the medic at the track and he takes the boot off.
He's looking at it and the medic at the track was like, “This doesn't look that bad. There was no swelling, no bruising.” It’s because it was immediate that it didn't set in yet. From the looks, it didn't look bad at all. The paramedic was even like, “I think you might be able to ride tomorrow if you ice this thing up.” He's saying it looks good, so I'll take his word for it. I don't want to be one to exaggerate. I go back to my car and I was like, “I'll try to deal with it as best as I can. Maybe I can sleep it off.” I'm in the car and the pain was worse. Usually, with my prior injuries, the pain would come in waves, but this was constant. There was no escaping it. I told my dad, “Something is wrong. It's not a sprained ankle. There's no way.” They put me in the ambulance, hooked me up with all these IVs, brought me to the hospital and then that was one of the nightmares I set in. Within an hour of being there, I had ten different doctors in my room looking at dopplers, blood flow, nerve doctors. As soon as I get there, they cast it.
They didn't have much of a choice with what they were doing, but now that I'm thinking about it, the cast was swelling. I almost think maybe that wasn't the best thing, but there was no escaping, no blood flow getting to that foot and hour by hour, it was harder and harder for them to find a pulse. I remember we were there, we ended up staying overnight. It was me, my dad and my brother. They left the hospital to go get my mom because they realized things are a little more serious than we thought. We were in Pittsburgh. They drove home eight hours to get my mom. While they're on the way back, the next morning, the doctor came in. He had his little doppler and he was trying to find a pulse. Normally, it would take them a couple of minutes to find it and he could not find anything. He leaves the room and I was getting a little nervous.
You are by yourself at this point too.
It was just me. He comes back in the room like, “I can't find a pulse. We're going to have to give you emergency surgery.” I was lucky in the sense that I was eighteen so I could sign off on myself to say okay. If I was seventeen, I don't know that the situation might've been different, but I was like, “Whatever we’ve got to do.” I went in and the first surgery that I had was twenty hours. At that time, my parents came back and I didn't know this until after, but they spoke to the doctor and they were like, “We opened him up. There are lots of issues going on there and things don't look good. There's a possibility that he's going to lose his leg.”
Not your ankle, but your leg.
At that time, below the knee down is what they opened up and everything in there was a mess. While I was in the surgery, they told my parents that and my parents were flipping out. My dad fainted in the waiting room. It was getting worse by the hour. Finally, I get out and I felt good. The first one is done in twenty hours. They never closed me back up. They had an external fixator, which is this cage around my leg. It was open. I had never seen anything like that before.
Would you be able to see inside?
I could see the muscle and blood. It was the strangest thing. I didn't know that they could do things like that. It was almost as if they put it on pause. They were like, “We're going to resume this in a couple of days.” They left it open. They figured out a game plan. In the second surgery, they took an artery from my left leg and did a bypass to try to see if that would help. They closed me up, then they waited again another 1 or 2 days to see if that would work. That ended up failing. They're like, “We're going to try one more thing.” They opened it back up, put a balloon inside the artery to try to blow it up because it was crushed. They opened it up to see if some blood will flow through then.
They wait another 2 or 3 days. That didn't work and then it was crunch time. They gave me the option like, “You can keep it but it's dead or you can cut it off.” That was when my parents sat me down. At that time, I still had this thought in my head like, “There's no way I'm going to lose my leg. How is that even possible? That doesn't happen to people.” The reality set in and my parents told me, “Things are not looking good.” As a family, we cried and talked it over. They told me, “I think you should cut it off because you're not going to be able to do anything with this leg.” I was like, “Everybody's telling me to go this direction. Nobody's saying I should keep it. I'm not going to keep it because I want to.” They cut it off.
What's the thought process there as an eighteen-year-old kid, your parents come and they sit you down? They're like, “It's looking like you're going to lose your leg.” What's the initial reaction there?
I've had plenty of injuries in the past and thankfully, I've recovered fully from all of them. All of those were temporary. I might've been off the bike and on crutches for maybe six months, but I knew this situation was going to be different because this is a permanent injury. This is not like you break your leg, it heals and then you walk again in six months. This was like I’ve got to learn how to walk again. How am I going to drive a car? Am I ever going to be able to run? Riding a dirt bike didn't even cross my mind at that point. I told my dad, “Am I going to be a freak now? I have one leg. How are people going to look at me?”
As a young kid, these are all thoughts going through my head. I'm blessed to be able to have a good family. They supported me through the whole thing and they kept my mind from going to those dark places. I spun it in a way in my mind. Even before I got a leg or before they did anything, I was mentally trying to prepare myself for, “This is not the end of your life. This is a new challenge.” Out of anybody in my family that this could happen to, I'm glad that it happened to me because I felt like I could handle it. I knew I got to spin it the right way. It's one of those things that can eat you up if you let it. If you mentally look at things in the right way, that was how I tackled it in the beginning.
I went into that final surgery. That ended up being the quickest surgery. I went in, they knew what they were going to do. They cut it off. I came out and it was the strangest thing to look down and see. when you come out of surgery, you get your blankets on and you're groggy. I came back to my senses and it's almost like I forgot what was going on. I realized, “They cut my foot off.” I pull the sheets off and it took me a couple of hours before I mentally processed what was I was looking at. Your question, “What can I do?” I had my parents there the whole time. They kept my mind mentally occupied.
What's the pain level after the anesthesia wears off?
It was weird. As soon as that surgery was over, I had no pain. That was the least amount of pain I had the entire three weeks. It was suspicious. I'm like, “How is this not painful?” One of the doctors came in and he's like, “In the next 6 or 7 hours, you're going to have pain. You're okay now. The anesthesia might still be affecting you and it's still not being in your system, but once it's out, you're going to feel pain.” I remember eight hours to the minute, it hit me like a brick wall. It was like breaking my leg, but I was awake there for hours. There's nothing you can do because there's nothing there. It's almost like my brain had to catch up. I'm sitting there and up to that point, nothing in my life was as painful as that and it was for five hours. I was laying there. My parents are not big on medication, like any of this pill. Personally, I didn't take too much. I tried not to in the hospital, but when that hit, I was like, “Give me whatever you got.”
Once that set in, it made it a little bit easier. Little by little, it went away. They did one more surgery to clean things up a little bit. By that point, I was in there about a month and I hadn't gotten up out of my bed that whole time. I never sat up. I never did much. I was laying back the whole time. When I got up and out, the first thing they had me do was stand up and get the blood flowing down to my legs again, because I'd been laying for a month. As soon as I stood up, that was another thing that killed me, having blood flow. My leg felt heavy. I could stand up for maybe two minutes and then I would lay back down because it was painful and then I would get up five minutes. Little by little, I was able to get up. I left the hospital in a wheelchair. I had one leg. It was all swollen and huge. It's like a bone.
Where did they cut it off at?
Right above my ankle. It's low. I have a long stump, which is good. Balance wise, it helps to have a longer leg. Once I got out of the hospital, I was over the wheelchair. I'm like, “This thing is annoying.” I want to be up and doing my thing. I was in a wheelchair for a couple of days. I was on crutches for a little bit and then they needed the swelling to go down a little bit more before they could fit me for my first leg. I got my first leg six months after I got out of the hospital. From there, I relearned to walk little by little. It’s a weird scenario. To think I'm eighteen and I’ve got to relearn how to walk.
I kept myself thinking that same way, “This is a challenge. This is not a step backward. I'm a stronger human now than I was before.” I would think about things like that because there was plenty of times when I was like, “This is the most frustrating thing ever.” I would be on my leg and I would get a little sore or pressure spot and it would cut open. I was like, “Now, I need to be off my leg for a day and I'm back on the crutches.” It felt never-ending. Little by little, things got better. Many years now down the line, I’m fully recovered. I feel good and strong.
What's walking like? Are you able to run? You're in the gym training people now. What's everyday life like for you now?
Walking was the first step. Once I was able to get comfortable with that, I had to strengthen my hips. When you are a normal person with two legs, you don't realize the weight of your leg. When you're having an artificial leg, things are a little heavy. I had to build strength in my hips. I would get fatigued even walking a little bit. I was like, “Let me start working out my hips. Let me try to get a little stronger to make this process a little smoother.” Little by little, walking became easier. Running was a little tougher. That's probably my biggest challenge. I can run, but I'm not a huge fan of running myself. I'm not a big cardio guy.
That was one of the things that I was like, “I want to be able to say that I can run.” I trained myself to be able to do that. I don't run much anymore, but if I had to, I could. I was skinny when I was in the hospital. I left the hospital at about twenty. I was like, “I want to put on some size.” I went to the gym and then that was where that love for the gym developed because I was like, “Let me try to build myself up to be what I can.” To this day, I go to the gym 5 to 6 days a week. Now that I'm working there, I'm in the gym all day whether I'm training myself or training somebody else. I love it. I wouldn't have it any other way.
You're still young and you’ve got so much time to think about it. After being through what you went through, what is it that you want to do now and accomplish? What are you thinking about now?
This happened when I was eighteen. At that time, I wanted to go away to school for nursing. I was always intrigued by the medical field and the evolution of how people take care of the body. I always found that stuff fascinating. For me, I knew I wanted to do something. I was set on nursing. Once this injury happened to me, I spent months in rehab and I found it interesting to watch my body progress, get better and be able to walk more comfortably. That piqued my interest. I decided I want to do PT. Since then, that's been my path.
I majored in Psychology at Kean. I graduated in May 2020. I'm in the process of applying for PT school. It's competitive. I'm on the fence of, “If I get in, that's going to be a full-time thing and I'm ready for it. I want to do it.” I'm not going to spend my whole life trying to get into something if it doesn't work. I'm also trying to explore other options. I'm also interested in doing acupuncture. One of my goals is to own my own gym and run my own little setup on the side that I definitely want to do. I have a couple of things in mind. Body, health and wellness-oriented.
It must've been incredibly hard for you. This was eighteen when you got this injury. All your friends are off to college having a good time. That must've been a tough mental aspect for you to going through this.
I was a naive eighteen-year-old kid that thinks he's got the whole world figured out. I couldn't wait to get out of my house, go away. I was set to go to a school in Upstate New York. I had a couple of friends going there and I was cruising through senior year. Everything was a breeze and I got hit with this reality check. In the beginning, it was tough. I still had that summer in between. This accident happened in May. I got out of the hospital in June and I had June to August that I could spend time with my friends. Few of them went away and I would visit them.
If I had a weekend, I would drive an hour to go see them. To keep me there in my mind and not get lost as a whole. I was in school too, but I was going close to home. I was like, “Once I get my leg and I'm back on my feet, I knew I was going to go away too. It was a matter of time.” I ended up going to school in Florida. That was nice down there and then that was expensive. I was over the going away thing and came back home. I finished up at Kean and that was it.
I had a bunch of ice hockey concussions and it's different than what you went through. It's like an injury, you can't see but you're dying on the inside and everyday headaches, blurred vision, dizziness, chronic fatigue. Every day was the worst day of my life for four years. When you finally come out of it, it's such a blessing to be alive and wake up feeling good. You almost have a new sense of appreciation for life and you go through what you went through. It was hell, awful and also, made you a stronger person. Do you have anything similar feeling to that? A little bit of a greater appreciation to be alive?
I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I think I needed this to realize how good my life was and how good it could be. To this day, I wouldn't change it. If somebody told me, “Take a pill and your leg will grow back,” I wouldn't do it. This has brought me many things. It made me who I am. I have a reminder on my phone that goes off at 10:00 PM and it says, “Be grateful,” because every day is a blessing. Every day we wake up, we get another chance to be that much better. There are plenty of people in this world that wish that they had what we have. There are people that are missing two legs, an arm, paralyzed. Mine is nothing compared to certain people out there. For me, always have that positive mindset. Every day is a gift and that's how you’ve got to live.
Being where you're at, if you could go back to your old self at eighteen and have a quick conversation with yourself, what do you think you would say to yourself?
Do you mean after the injury or before the injury?
After the injury. You have no idea what to expect and you have a chance to coach yourself up. What piece of advice would you give yourself at that moment?
The amputee community is small. I get people all the time reaching out to me for questions. On Facebook or Instagram, they'll message me. I worked in a hospital that had a lot of amputees in there. I would go around and talk to them. The biggest advice I would give to everybody and I would give it to myself at eighteen is, “Be patient. You’ve got to take its course. Things don't happen overnight.” If somebody else looked at it, they would say, “You were running a year after you got a leg. Your recovery was over.” Me looking back at it now, I wasn't fully recovered until many years ago. It was a five-year process. It wasn't until that I felt comfortable in my leg to where I was like, “I could do anything.” Even when I was running or this and that, I would get fatigued and weird little things would happen. It takes time. I've tried to portray that to people that everybody wants the quick fix, but anything worth having takes time.
Where can people find you on Instagram or online if they do want to reach out and want some advice?
Thank you for coming on. Your story is inspiring. It was awesome to sit down and talk to you. I wish you nothing but the best of luck. We'll get back on and do it again.
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