How D-Day would go down today
Senior Master Sgt. David Snyder pulled on his training uniform and fought the tension in his chest. It was the day of his annual PT test. Like all of his tests before, he had been preparing for months. But this time he was much more nervous.
He bent down, tied his only black shoe, and mentally prepared to push harder than ever before.
He drove to the construction site himself. He did as many push-ups and sit-ups as he could in 60 seconds, he ran a mile and a half, and he had his waist measured. In the end, he easily passed the test with a score of 84.4 – with a prosthesis that used to have one of his legs on.
Five months earlier, Snyder had lost his left leg in a motorcycle accident.
A story of recovery: SMSgt David Snyder
“It’s a series of unfortunate events that led to it,” he said, recalling a change in his planned route. “I have an Apple iPhone and of course I want it[ed] to save me 7 minutes. “
Snyder was driving his sleek black Harley Davidson down an empty Alabama back road from a weekend trip to Florida with his uncle. The native Californian was en route to Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, where he attended the Senior NCO Academy.
He said the morning ride went well as they passed a lake.
“I set the cruise control to 55,” said Snyder, currently manager of the Air Combat Command Command Propulsion program at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. “I’m doing everything right and here comes this silver Malibu.”
The oncoming car quickly caught his attention and he went defensive.
“I saw his bike start pointing it out and I knew it was too late,” he said. “I tried to spin around him as smoothly as possible. I get to the edge as far as I can and he catches me. “
Snyder had his legs propped up on the crash pins, a cylindrical spoke that usually extends four to five inches to protect the bike from falling over. The car caught the hook and put him on the bike. The bike tipped sideways but didn’t go down. Shaken but calm, Snyder walked on until he found a house about 100 yards down the street and drove up.
Finally off the road, he assessed the damage.
“[I] I was looking down and my foot was pointing the wrong way, ”he said. “I could see a big bulge in my sock.”
Snyder asked his uncle to help him off the bike. He looked down and saw blood pooling beside him as he sat in a stranger’s driveway.
He remembered his emergency training and quickly took action.
“I look at my leg and I think a tourniquet is my only option,” he said. “I don’t know when anyone will come here. So I take off my shirt and start doing a tourniquet. “
It took about 30 minutes for the first responders to arrive. After seeing the severity of his injuries, they evacuated Snyder into the air at Baptist Medical Center South Hospital in Montgomery, Alabama, where they performed an external repair on his leg. They told Snyder he had a pilon fracture, which meant his tibia and fibula exploded on impact.
“Parts were missing, probably somewhere on the Alabama freeway,” he recalled.
“The bones were twisted and facing the wrong way. [The surgeons] took it all in there and grind it all up, put it back in and hoped it would take. They gave me four plates and about 20 screws that day. “
After he worked on his leg, the doctors determined his recovery options. You could opt for limb rescue or amputation. Snyder watched a round of limb rescue but said he didn’t put much hope in it after hearing of failed recoveries that ended in amputation.
When first examined three months after surgery, the hardware in his leg looked good and the prognosis on his leg was promising. However, after six months, things started to turn. The hardware started to collapse and everything moved down in his leg. Things didn’t improve and amputation seemed like the right choice for Snyder and his family.
“I was just ready to move on to the next step,” said Melissa Snyder, David’s wife and high school sweetheart. “He couldn’t do what he wanted. He could handle the pain, but he didn’t like being unable to live his life. “
Snyder and Melissa both decided that an amputation was the best option and set a date for May 8, 2018. “Before I went into that, I told my wife I didn’t know how long it would be before I see her [at my foot], “he said.” I was like [screw] it. I pull the paper back and say, ‘Yes, it’s gone. ‘“
After his events, Snyder’s character got a real chance to shine.
“He’s had a very positive attitude from the start,” said Melissa. “We have always lived this way. In the end it’ll work out somehow. “
After surgery, Snyder spent five months at Walter Reed National Military Center in Bethesda, Maryland for physical rehabilitation in the Air Force District of the Airman Medical Transition Unit in Washington.
Snyder decided how to deal with those five months straight from the stretcher when he first went to the bathroom.
“It starts now,” he said. “Can I get up? Yes, I can get up if I want. I got up and took a walker into the bathroom. “
He spent the next five months pushing the boundaries of his recovery so that he could return home sooner.
Snyder worked out and did various exercises almost every day to improve flexibility and muscle control in his leg. He ran on the track with Walter Reed, swam and cycled along with other basic function exercises.
After all the hard work – and with the PT test in the rearview mirror – Snyder said he was grateful that he could still serve in the Air Force. He said he knew that active duty members with amputations have obstacles while on duty. His goal is to break these barriers and continue to grow.
“I want to prove that I’m better,” he said. “I don’t care how bad my injury is, I want to qualify worldwide as soon as possible. It’s my job. I signed up for it. “