Jamie Blanek, a former Miss Waco, is learning to live and exercise with a prosthetic leg after she lost her right leg while helping at the scene of an accident on Feb. 6, 2021.
Jamie Blanek’s life changed irrevocably when she stopped to help at a car accident on Old Lorena Road on Feb. 6
While helping to calm and keep two small girls buckled in their car seats, another vehicle slammed into the Jeep, which in turn crushed Blanek.
Her right leg below the knee was severed; her left leg was smashed. Now, as the former Miss Waco and fitness buff adjusts to life with a prosthetic leg, she knows she’s lucky to be alive.
Medical personnel told her it was a miracle she survived.
“They were all floored,” she said. “First off, they’re like, ‘You should be dead,” because I was bleeding out from my leg; I was bleeding out from my femur fracture (in her left leg) and I was bleeding from my brain injury, my head fracture, and my pelvis was broken. In four different places I was losing all of my blood.”
While she was told she never lost consciousness until she was sedated in the operating room, she doesn’t remember much about the accident and aftermath.
“I will remember moments,” she said. “But nothing like the full, entire experience of it. I will just remember something maybe that someone said, or a feeling, but nothing that I can sit here and say, ‘this happened, this happened, this happened … except the one memory I have (of speaking with the children).
“Other than that, it’s just little tiny things, which I’m really, really grateful for because I don’t want to remember.”
She woke up in the intensive care unit the next morning, and found herself strapped down and intubated. Medical personnel rushed in as her hospital monitors went off.
“That’s when I heard that I needed to calm down, that I had an amputation,” she recalled. “That was the first that I knew about it. I didn’t know what had been amputated, I didn’t know how. I didn’t know anything.”
A day later she was told the extent of her injuries. In addition to the amputation, her left leg suffered breaks in the femur, fibula, tibia and kneecap. She had a skull fracture and bleeding on the brain.
“My leg was actually amputated on impact. It was a traumatic amputation,” she said. “They were telling me that they were going to do their best to make sure I had a viable leg to wear a prosthetic. That included taking my knee. I did have some of my knee, but not enough to be functional. They did an amazing job. I had no infection. I had no issues whatsoever.”
The lack of infection was surprising considering the severity of the injury and the debris from the roadway and vehicles that entered her wound. The surgical team cleared out all of the foreign material.
“They made it perfect for me to wear a prosthetic,” she said.
But that wouldn’t happen right away. Blanek spent five months in a wheelchair, doing physical therapy three times a week.
“Nothing super-rigorous because of the tons of damage to my left leg,” she said. “That’s what we were focusing on, just rehabbing that leg.”
She did go to the gym, but could exercise only her upper body.
“I could do all the upper-body stuff I wanted to do,” she said. “I would go to the gym as often as I could and work out my upper body.”
Blanek had additional surgery on her left leg during the summer, which set her back some on healing. She has rods in her femur and tibia and a plate and screws in her fibula. The leg fractures will take a long time to heal because of the trauma from the crash and the leg still tires easily and has pain.
“Then I was ready to do whatever,” she said. “I was getting my prosthetic and I was like, ‘Okay, I going to be back up on both legs finally after five months of being in a wheelchair.’ I was ready to just go for it.
“Then the program came along and I knew I had to prepare myself for this intense, rigorous physical training I was about to go through. So I continued working out, going to the gym.”
The “program” was a class by the Adaptive Training Foundation, based in Carrollton.
“ATF reached out to me and told me, ‘You have to apply.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Um, it’s maybe four months post-accident, and I don’t think of myself as an athlete anymore, so to think like I would be ready or even able to do a program this intense, I was like, ‘there’s no way.’
“But I did apply and they were like, ‘we have to have you. ‘”
Blanek was one of 11 people chosen out of thousands who applied for the latest nine-week program, which puts them through numerous workouts to address their bodies’ new needs.
“They look for people who are ready to change their lives, and that’s certainly where I was at,” she said. “Since the beginning of this journey I wanted to get back to my life, my physicality and this seemed like a great way to do that. They look for people who have the story that needs to be shared.”
While the main force of Adaptive Training Foundation is helping people adapt to the physical adjustments, it does more, she said.
“The program, as much as it is a gym, it’s also a place of healing your entire being,” Blanek said. “We go through mental processes as well, such as meditations and breathing exercises. We did this training called TIPP. It’s a 30-day course of retraining your brain and your neurological pathways to feel your trauma differently. It takes the emotion away from the traumatic incident you experienced so you can move on.
“We certainly got a well-rounded training there, which is awesome.”
She said mental health is a major aspect of the healing process.
“Your body can be great, your diet can be great, your sleep can be great, but if you’re not okay up here, in the head, none of that matters,” she said. “You’re not going to be good for yourself or for anyone else. So you really do have to be prepared, if you want to change your life or better yourself, to involve the mental aspect of it.”
Blanek said ATF has an innovative approach to assisting adaptive athletes.
“They have to be innovative because everyone who comes into the gym is different,” she said. “They have to be able to train you and whatever your adaptation is and what you need.”
She recently went to Utah with other ATF class members for a final training, which included getting to snowboard. She trained before that on an indoboard, which looks like a plank on top of a cylinder to work on balance.
“I experienced so many new things to do and ways to work out,” she said. “I had no idea how I was going train this new body. I was active and fit before the accident and I knew how to train that body and how to get that Jamie in shape, but this new Jamie, I had no idea what I was going to do. Which is why I would just go to the gym and do arms, because I was like, ‘well, I can do arms.’
“They taught me how to get a full body workout, how to do cardio without having to run because I can’t run at the moment.
“I can walk into any gym and set up a workout for myself that will rival anything I did before, which is awesome.”
She recently began working with Andrew Rehling at D1 Training Waco. Rehling has partnered with Adaptive Training in the past and also said that training for each person is different.
“There’s not a one-size-fits-all recovery program,” Rehling said. He looks forward to working with Blanek as she builds back her strength.
Blanek is thrilled to have a prosthetic leg, which basically has three parts: the socket, where the leg fits in; the knee, which has computerized settings and has to be charged like a cellphone; and the foot.
“It’s allowing to get back the life that I want,” he said.
Even right after her injury, her surgeon was encouraging about life with a prosthetic.
“He said, ‘You’ll be able to do 98 percent of things you could do before, and you’re going to do a Spartan race with me,’” she said.
“And I was like, ‘Ooo-kay. Sure. Whatever you say!’”
Blanek said despite the injury, she believes it was a blessing she was at the accident scene to keep the girls in the Jeep safe.
“All I did was lose a leg,” she said. “Their lives ares so much more important. I would do it all over again knowing that this would happen.”
Other than her legs, most of the rest of her body has returned to normal, she said.
Her skull fracture has healed and the brain bleed turned out fine, she said, with only a few residual effects.
“I can’t remember words some times,” she said. “It’s right there and I just can’t think of it or the wrong word will come to my mind.
“I have lost a majority of my sense of smell. Everyone’s like, ‘Jamie, can you smell this?’ And I say, no, I can’t.’ And they say, ‘COVID!’
“Uh, brain injury.
“It’s very strange. But it’s all good.”
She intends to mark the one-year anniversary of her accident with a 5K family-friendly and adaptive-friendly race on Saturday, Feb. 5, somewhere in Waco. Details still need to be worked out and she won’t be up to running just yet.
“It’ll be a celebration of my Alive Day,” she said.
“I feel so blessed and fortunate to be in a position to share my story and can help motivate other people,” she added.
“I hope that people can find something in my story that they can relate to and help them find some drive and self-motivation. Everyone’s going through something.”
She’s appreciative of the great support system of friends and family who have helped her throughout her recovery.
“Such a big thank you to everyone,” she said.
There’s plenty to come, even if she’s not sure where it all leads.
“I know I’m capable of so much,” she said. “I’ve always been competitive and an athlete. I want to find something that I can do, and show people that just because I lost a limb doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop progressing and stop being this person who’s into health and fitness and sports.
“There’s so many goals and dreams I’m working toward.”