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Airman Adapts after Amputation

Caswell and Tami share a moment before his surgery. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Scott Poe.

At age 28, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jason Caswell, a 19th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, was an athlete who aspired to play on the U.S. national rugby team. While he was stationed in England, he was out on the field whenever he wasn’t working on the flightline.

During his third season in the game, however, Caswell’s dream came to a bone-shattering halt when he was tackled to the ground by an opposing player.

Compound Fracture

“After I was tackled, I kept trying to get up and run, but I kept falling over,” he said. Caswell had suffered a compound fracture in his right leg and needed medical attention immediately.

Caswell was slowly bleeding out. After more than an hour of lying on the rugby pitch, he was taken to the base hospital in an ambulance, flat-lining twice during the ride.

Caswell endured eight surgeries to repair his leg. After most of the surgeries, he said, he was back to work in less than a month, sometimes as soon as two weeks. Over the course of four years, Caswell and his family moved from place to place and hospital to hospital, continuing the procedures and enduring disappointment and lack of progress after each one.

The family was mentally and physically exhausted, Caswell said, and he was still in pain.

Time for a New Approach

Caswell finally decided it was time for a new approach. He met with his new doctor, and in September, he and his family had made a life-changing decision. It was time to remove his leg.
Caswell said he was tired of feeling like a burden to his family. And with every step he took, he added, a sharp, stunning pain shot up his leg.

“After four years of doing this-four years of difficulty, pain, and surgeries-I asked myself, ‘Am I letting everyone down?'” he said. “These doctors, nurses and therapists have worked so hard trying to fix my leg, and now I am just going to cut it off.”

Caswell’s wife, Tami, reassured him that he was doing the right thing. “I told him, ‘You fought as hard as you could. Your body has made this decision, not you,'” she said. “‘Your leg has said-Enough.'”

On Oct. 17, Caswell said, he was prepared for his ninth surgery, hopeful that it would be his last.

Ready for a Better Quality of Life

“Nobody ever wants to lose a leg, but after four years of pain, four years I will never get back with my kids, I know it’s time,” he said. “You don’t get back time, so why wait? Why give up extra time trying to fix something that is not fixable? I am ready for a better quality of life.”

As Caswell rolled toward the operating room, he had a big smile on his face, knowing he was making the right decision for his family and himself.

Two days after the amputation, Caswell was already playing and racing with the kids in the living room, using his walker.

“It’s a relief,” Caswell said as he moved his bandaged leg around. “The other night I was doing pushups and back leg lifts. I was having fun, because I can do this stuff now and it doesn’t hurt. The doctor took a 16-pound burden off of me.”

Thankful for Support

Caswell said he is thankful for all the support he received from his wife and children and from the Air Force Wounded Warrior Adaptive Sports Program.

“I participated in the Warrior Games, and that’s when I met a lot of guys who were going, or had gone through, some rough times,” Caswell said. “That’s when I realized I was not alone. I knew I could get through this. The adaptive sports program taught me that your life is not over. You just have to adapt and overcome…. I can’t tell you what I’m going to be doing in the future, because everything is open now. I would love to go back to being a crew chief again and do my job. The sky is the limit.”

This article was adapted from an original article by Air Force Airman 1st Class Scott Poe, 19th Airlift Wing.