Bench pressing a personal best of 500 pounds, Michael Brantley, an award-winning powerhouse who was once featured in World Gym Magazine, seems indestructible.
On Aug. 26, 2003, his body was put to the ultimate challenge but proved that while his body may be vulnerable to injury, his spirit is not.
Brantley was following a familiar morning routine riding his motorcycle along a rural New Jersey highway on the way to the gym. He could see two vehicles – a pickup truck and a smaller car trailing it – approaching in opposing traffic.
“The car tried to pass the truck. He pulled out and never saw me,” Brantley said.
Brantley swiftly moved to avoid direct head-on impact but did not have enough time to exit the roadway before the car collided with his motorcycle.
“My hand went through the windshield. [I was] snatched off the motorcycle and [the driver] refused to stop,” Brantley said. “He [dragged] me down the highway with my hand in the windshield.”
The sheer volume of Brantley’s muscular physique damaged the vehicle considerably but the driver did not relent. Soon, Brantley’s legs were pulled under the car and his right leg became caught in the wheel well.
“The front tire eventually blew out because it was [locked up] by my leg and when the tire blew out, it blew me off the car like a bomb,” Brantley told O&P Business News.
After lying still for a few seconds, Brantley started crawling off of the roadway toward the shoulder. This is when he made the startling discovery that his right hand was almost severed at the wrist. He had only a “thumbs-worth of skin” keeping it attached. With adrenalin running through his body, he said he flipped his “whole hand backwards” onto his forearm so he could crawl across the road without causing any further damage.
Throughout the ordeal, he recalls blacking out for undetermined periods of time and that he did not feel any pain.
“I never stopped crawling until I crossed that white line,” Brantley said.
A winning pair
Following the accident Brantley received a right hip replacement and a rod was inserted in the same leg to replace his femur. Brantley also underwent surgeries to clean up the damage already caused at the scene of the accident: transradial and transfemoral amputations to his right extremities.
“That whole side got wiped out,” Brantley said. “I guess if I wasn’t so big from body building, [the force of the accident] probably would have ripped the whole arm off but instead it went to the weakest link.”
These new circumstances did not slow him down for long, as Brantley met his prosthetist, Matt Oppedisano, CPO, of Allied Orthotics & Prosthetics while he was hospitalized. They began working immediately to return Brantley to his active lifestyle.
“I wouldn’t trade Matt for the world,” Brantley said.
One of the reasons Brantley has such respect for Oppedisano is because he is a man of his word. Promising him a prosthetic arm by the first of the year, Oppedisano did not let him down and delivered one to his door on New Year’s Eve. Just 4 months after the accident, Brantley was back in the gym reclaiming the life he had before.
This respect is a shared trait between the men – so much so that it is hard to tell who encourages and inspires the other.
“[Brantley] is remarkable because of his attitude, how he approaches life and how he approaches his prosthetic care,” Oppedisano told O&P Business News. “He is a really easy going person and he doesn’t let anything stand in his way.”
Making a comeback
Since the accident, Brantley has been busy receiving certifications in personal training, health and fitness, first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, automated external defibrillator and osteoporosis. He also works at the Millville, N.J. YMCA, Holly City Family Center, World Gyms and sees other clients privately.
Brantley and Oppedisano agree that gym members and private clients alike are encouraged by the level of determination he exhibits.
“The able-bodied person can look at him…and think if he can do all of this, then maybe I can do some of it too,” Oppedisano said.
In addition, Brantley gave the world of weightlifting an inspired comeback winning third place in the Master’s Bench Press Competition in Wildwood, N.J. in October 2006 and second place in the same competition in March 2007. He also won second place in the 275 lbs. weight class, with a best press of 405 pounds. Competitions were not for disabled lifters but open for all.
Having an impact
Brantley closely holds to the idea that he is in this world to do something good for others. With that thought in mind, he would ultimately like to make an instructional exercise video for amputees and other people with disabilities, a dream he is still in the process of attaining.
“He is trying to help in the community and help other people who are in similar situations,” Oppedisano said.
Whether he knows the power of his actions, Brantley touches the lives of others all the time. In one encounter with a child at the hospital, for example, he could not possibly know that the weight of his words would affect an entire family.
He saw a young amputee in a wheelchair in the hospital. The boy had his head down and was upset. Brantley, also in a wheelchair, approached him to ask him what was wrong.
“They just don’t understand,” the boy told Brantley.
Brantley explained to the boy that he should get up and keep going because he was obviously left in this world to bring something good to it.
“The gratification I got out of that wasn’t even then, it was the next day when his parents came to me and said, ‘We don’t know what you told him but you gave us our kid back.’ That really rocked me.” Brantley said.
Brantley would like to speak at seminars and visit the less fortunate – anything that will allow him to help others.
“He is positive with everybody – especially other amputees where he can give them a good outlook on things,” Oppedisano said. “Things will get better. He is living proof of that.”
Jennifer Hoydicz is a staff writer for O&P Business News.