“I don’t want them to feel bad for me, because I don’t feel bad for myself,” industrial technology senior Phil Jones said. “People are going to stare, but it’s not something I can control.”
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Phil Jones doesn’t do much to blend in. If Cal Poly students don’t recognize his bright orange hair or full sleeve tattoo, they should be able to pick up on his prosthetic left leg.
The industrial technology senior returns people’s stares with a smile, assuming they’re wondering why his skin meets a carbon-fiber leg midway up his calf. Curiosity is fine. Pity is not.
“I don’t want them to feel bad for me, because I don’t feel bad for myself,” Jones said. “People are going to stare, but it’s not something I can control. It’s not every day you see someone walking around with a prosthetic on.”
On May 20, 2013, Jones finished working out at the Recreation Center at approximately 3:30 p.m.. After showering, he decided he wanted a Gatorade and hopped on his motorcycle outside his apartment on Foothill Boulevard.
When crossing the intersection of Foothill and California Boulevard, Jones moved into the right lane to avoid a Vespa in front of him. As he rode through the intersection, he noticed a black SUV speeding down the left turn lane from California onto Foothill.
“I’m like, ‘She’s coming awfully fast. But she has to stop, it’s the law,’” Jones said. “Next thing I know, I just see this big black thing, and I’m just like, “Oh, shit.’”
Jones’ left ankle was shattered upon impact with the SUV. His femur was broken in two places, sticking out through the front of his shin and the back of his thigh.
To prevent himself from skidding across the road, Jones hit the bike’s throttle and sped into a Volkswagen Bug waiting to turn out of Mustang Village.
He smashed his face into the front fender at 40 MPH and fell under the car, trapping his foot beneath a tire. The driver drove off Jones’ foot in an attempt to set him free, but ripped his foot from the rest of his leg.
“I look down and I see my foot hanging on by one tendon, twisted around three times and facing the other way,” Jones said. “And I’m just screaming, ‘My leg’s gone! My leg’s gone!’”
With his femoral artery squirting blood onto the road, Jones’ friends picked him up from the armpits and carried him to the sidewalk. But none of them had the medical training to help him any further.
Just as he really started panicking, a woman ran over and instructed Jones to take off his shirt. She tied it into a tourniquet and pinched his femoral artery for 15 minutes. Without her help, Jones said, he would have bled out in five.
“She wasn’t in the police report; nobody knows her name. I would love to know who it was,” he said. “Supposedly she was a nurse somewhere.”
All of a sudden, Jones stopped feeling pain in his leg. Everything went numb as he began to feel tired and peaceful.
When the woman saw Jones’ reaction to his blood loss, she began peppering him with questions to keep him awake: Where was he from? What were his parents’ names? What did he do in his free time?
The woman kept him alert until paramedics reached the scene. Once they loaded him into an ambulance, the blood loss caught up with him and he blacked out.
The mystery savior is tattooed into Jones’ arm, an angel with her face covered and a scroll with the Roman numerals V XX MMXIII (5/20/2013) wrapped around her waist. On the woman’s left is an hourglass, a permanent reminder of how quickly our time on earth can run out.
Jones was airlifted to Stanford University Medical Center, where doctors amputated his left leg midway up his calf. His one request was that they cut below his tattoo of a peace sign intertwined with a skull, symbolizing peace of mind.
After 25 days of recovery at Stanford, Jones began rehabilitation in his hometown of Mill Creek, Wash., where he went through what he called a triangle of happiness, anger and sadness.
During the happiness stage, Jones said he felt total empowerment over his body. But the next minute, he’d fall into a deep depression or rage without any warning.
“(Doctors) told me it was just psychological,” he said. “Just getting hit — losing your foot — is such a traumatic accident.”
Jones didn’t have a prosthetic leg for seven or eight weeks after the accident. He moved around on crutches with straps, which he still uses to get in and out of bed.
Near the end of August, he switched to a single strapped crutch. In November, he switched from a crutch to a cane, then got rid of the cane over winter break.
The Department of Motor Vehicles took away Jones’ driver’s license after the accident, but he recently regained both his automatic and manual licenses.
Next on Jones’ to-do list is running. Though he played sports all his life, learning to run has been awkward and even comical.
“It’s pretty much one of the funniest things you’ll ever see; it’s really weird-looking,” he said, laughing. “But I can pretty much do whatever I want when I put my mind to it.”
Jones credited members of his fraternity, Sigma Pi, for helping him transition back to Cal Poly after the accident.
Sigma Pi members have helped Jones with school, helped him in spots where he had limited mobility and been his support team during the transition, he said.
“They haven’t treated me differently at any time … I’m still the same Phil, I’m just missing a foot,” he said. “They’re super supportive. They’re my bros.”
Computer science senior Ryan Gilbert, Jones’ roommate and his big brother in Sigma Pi, said members of the fraternity made an effort to include Jones in everything from brotherhood to just hanging out.
If Sigma Pi brothers drive by Jones as he’s walking down the street, they pull over and offer him a ride, Gilbert said. Most of the time, though, Jones will push the limits of what he can do on his own.
“Once in a while, you can tell that his leg’s hurting him, but he’ll refuse to use a crutch or anything,” Gilbert said. “He’ll just walk through the pain. He wants to keep going.”
The Disability Resource Center (DRC) gave Jones a disability visa, which includes priority registration so he could pick classes near his apartment at Watson Manor.
Senior Front Desk Program Assistant Danny Brosnahan said the DRC provides a variety of services to Mobility Impairment students like Jones, ranging from transportation to note takers in classes.
“Very few people get priority registration,” Brosnahan said. “(It’s only given) if something is in play that prevents them from getting the same education as other students.”
The collision wasn’t the first time Jones cheated death. Three years before the accident, he landed in the hospital with a ruptured appendix.
After cleaning him out, Jones’ doctors told him he was free to go. But that was just the start of his problems.
In the first nine days after his release from the hospital, the already lean Jones lost 12 pounds. After 11 days, his body temperature fluctuated between 96 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
On the day before his high school graduation, Jones felt worse than ever before. He asked his mom to take him back to the hospital.
Blood tests and a CAT Scan revealed the doctors hadn’t fully cleaned Jones out after removing his appendix. He had a seven-centimeter infection where the appendix had been.
“They told me, ‘Uh, you should have been dead five days ago. We don’t know how you’re alive,’” he said.
After the infection was drained through a tube, Jones’ high school principal came to the hospital to deliver his diploma.
While Jones is capable of doing almost everything he could before the accident, he has one more goal waiting for him down the road. He’s determined to get his motorcycle license back and ride again.
“Riding was my favorite thing to do, ever. Every time I had stress or wanted a homework break, I’d just go out and ride a couple miles,” he said. “I’m gonna ride again. I don’t know (about) on the street, but at least on dirt, I’ll ride again.”