In a lot of ways, Justin Carey’s first day of his junior year at Battle Ground High School was like the dozens of other first days he’s been through in the past.
In the weeks leading up to Wednesday, he went shopping for new clothes and shoes. He said he was excited to see the friends he hadn’t seen all summer.
But that’s where the similarities end. He could only wear one of those new shoes, and the reason he hadn’t seen a lot of his friends over the summer is because he had spent most of his time in the hospital and on bed rest.
“I’m nervous,” he said as he sat in the passenger’s seat of his mom’s car outside of his house. “I was going there for two years with both of my legs.”
As his mother, Janette Chumley, drove him to his first day of classes, Carey, 16, said his stomach hurt.
“I only got two hours of sleep, I was thinking about it so much,” he said. “I don’t like the attention.”
“He’s painfully shy,” Chumley said. “I’m nervous that he will be embarrassed. Some kids are mean, and I hope he doesn’t experience that.”
Carey said he didn’t like the idea of rolling through the hallways in a wheelchair and he said he hopes no one asks him too many questions about having only part of a right leg.
But most of his classmates likely already know what happened to Carey.
Struck at bus stop
Area news organizations covered the story of how, on June 10, a Nissan Maxima crashed into Carey as he stood on the corner of Northeast 82nd Avenue and 289th Street waiting for the bus to school.
Carey wasn’t initially found by emergency personnel, and he lay in nearby brush for 90 minutes until a tow truck driver found him and called 911. He suffered two broken femurs and eventually developed an infection that forced him to have the lower half of his right leg amputated. The driver of the Nissan, Shaun Johnson, 46, of Vancouver has not been cited but the crash remains under investigation by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office Traffic Unit.
“He’s not waiting for the bus anymore,” Chumley said as she navigated the curvy roads. “I’ll be driving him.”
As the car pulled into the handicapped parking spot outside the school, a group of boys gathered around Carey as he got out. Wheeling toward the school, his nervousness appeared to disappear as he fired off a joke.
“I know this school like my right leg,” he said, the group of boys erupting into laughter.
Chumley smiled. As much as the crash may have changed her son physically, she said that Carey has remained a normal teenager with a sense of humor that has helped him and his family through the tough time.
On Tuesday, Carey had his final fitting for a prosthetic. The metal and carbon-fiber leg will arrive next week, and over the next few weeks, Carey will slowly learn to walk.
Chumley said she still worries about her son’s legs — his femurs are still healing — but she’s excited about his future, which she thinks will involve him helping other people who have similar experiences.
“He’s a great kid with a big heart,” she said. “Good things will surely come his way.”