Teen relearning to walk

Justin Carey goes home with prosthetic leg four months after being struck

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

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photoThe leg, made of titanium and carbon fiber, contains a micro-processing chip that gives him enough maneuverability to kneel.

(/The Columbian)

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Justin Carey lifted himself from his wheelchair and found his balance before settling into his stance. As he stepped forward onto his new prosthetic right leg, he slid his hands along the metal railing for support. Pretty soon, the 16-year-old stood up tall and walked without assistance.

"It feels really weird," he said as his stared down at the titanium and carbon-fiber leg.

In the past four months, Carey hasn't spent much time being upright. He spent one month confined to a hospital bed following a June 10 crash that left him with two broken legs. A court affidavit states a Nissan Altima, driven by Shaun Johnson, 46, veered off the road and slammed into him while he waited for the school bus that morning.

In the hospital, he developed an infection that forced him to undergo a through-the-knee amputation of his right leg. After that, he spent three months getting around in a wheelchair.

On Monday, Carey went into Evergreen Prosthetics & Orthotics in the Fircrest neighborhood with his family and girlfriend to get some final adjustments to his prosthetic leg and take it home. The afternoon fitting came after a morning Carey spent at Johnson's first appearance in Clark County Superior Court, where she faces charges of vehicular assault and possession of methamphetamine.

Carey's mother, Janette Chumley, said that the family feels no ill will toward Johnson. Though she acknowledged that attending the court proceedings was rough, the family maintains a positive attitude. They don't know any other way to feel but positive as Carey makes strides in his recovery, she said.

"I feel like I'm going to laugh and cry at the same time," Chumley said.

The community's support, along with friends, family and a strong faith-based background, has helped the family through the experience, she said.

While he practiced walking and climbing up and down stairs, Carey built up a sweat, but he was determined to be on his feet again. In all other respects, he appeared and acted like a normal teenager. He spun on a stool while waiting for Tim O'Neill, founder and president of the prosthetics company, to make some adjustments to his leg; he begged his mom for fast food; and he teased his girlfriend, Lexi Davisson, 14.

"Yeah, he's definitely 16 years old," Chumley said.

After Carey walked hand-in-hand with Davisson, she said it felt natural, though she noticed he got a lot taller over the summer. The pair have been dating since March, and Davisson has been there for every part of the process — including his decision to amputate his leg.

"Did you see the camo, Dad?" Carey asked.

The swath of camouflage on the prosthetic leg is a nod to his interest in joining the military — an interest that might no longer be viable. The Air National Guard, however, made him an honorary member.

As part of the Junior ROTC at Battle Ground High School, he shoots competitively on the Air Rifle Team. His new prosthesis helps get him back in the game. Once the leg is fitted with a pivoting ankle, he will be able to kneel without shaking and to lie prone on the ground.

"He'll be back to bull's-eyes real soon," said his dad, Jim Carey.

In the future, the leg will be reprogrammed to allow him to walk faster and, later, to run. The $60,000 price tag of the prosthetic leg is offset by about $25,000 raised so far in community donations. In addition to the start-up costs, the leg will need expensive software updates every year.

After taking Monday off, Carey returns to school Tuesday to show off his new leg.