Fund set up for motorcyclist who lost legs in crash

June 15, 1995|By Vikki Valentine | Vikki Valentine,Contributing Writer

Cliff Smith was out on a midnight ride with his new motorcycle and the license he had just gotten that day.

Apart from the paramedics lifting him into the helicopter, that's basically all the 25-year-old Howard County native remembers about the morning of May 25.

Police tell him that he lost control of the cycle as he approached a turn at Pennshop Road and Route 27 in Mount Airy.

Maryland Shock Trauma Center surgeons had to amputate both of Mr. Smith's legs above the knee. Now the uninsured man must learn to live without his legs -- and find a way to pay for new ones.

As a five-year subcontractor for S&K Associates Inc. roofing firm in Mount Airy, Mr. Smith was responsible for his own health insurance.

"He couldn't afford it," said Brenda Schlegel of Woodbine, a friend. "To a 25-year-old, you think nothing like this will ever happen. You'd rather put the money in a new truck."

Mr. Smith's employer and friends are trying to find a way to buy the Dayton native the prosthetic legs he needs to return in some way to the active life he led before the accident. "He hasn't said 'I wish I had died, because I have no legs.' He's thrilled to be alive," Mrs. Schlegel said.

Along with setting up a trust fund for friends and family to donate money for Mr. Smith, they are staffing donation booths at local fairs and organizing auctions where friends without money can sell their labor.

"He's basically a wonderful guy. He has so many friends," said Maija Kropp, office manager at S&K Associates. "Sitting at the carnival asking people for money, it was a very humble experience for me. . . . I never thought I'd have to do this."

When Mr. Smith is released from the hospital, he will move back to Dayton in Howard County to live with his father.

Mr. Smith graduated from Howard's Glenelg High School in 1988, but he has lived in Mount Airy in Carroll County the past few years. His Carroll friends are worried that the people he grew up with in Howard don't know about his recent accident and financial problem.

Under the state's Medical Assistance fund for people without health insurance, Mr. Smith has $10,000 to finance a pair of prostheses.

Most high-level bilateral amputees -- people who lose both legs above the knee -- need a preparatory pair to wear for the first three to nine months while the legs heal and change shape. After that, a more permanent pair can be fitted.

The preparatory pair alone can cost between $7,000 and $12,000. And even if Mr. Smith's pair were at the lower end of the scale, little would be left over to buy the more permanent set.

A top-of-the-line pair that allows most mobility can cost between $15,000 and $30,000.

"$10,000 is not sufficient to get a young traumatic amputee back to a functional level he might desire," said Harry Phillips, a certified prosthetist orthotist. "To achieve optimum function, he would need very expensive prostheses."

Mr. Smith's friends and family have set a goal of $40,000. With a prosthesis package at that price range, Mr. Smith could possibly run again and wear his new legs for up to 17 hours a day.

Since their fund-raising efforts began a few weeks ago, the group has raised more than $5,000.

"Cliff doesn't know anything about what we're doing," Mrs. Schlegel said. "The only thing we've told him is that we're going to buy him a new pair of shoes with feet and legs in them."

Donations can be sent to the Cliff Smith Trust Fund, in care of S&K Associates Inc., 1105 Shaffersville Road, Mount Airy 21771. The money will be deposited in an account at Laurel Federal Savings Bank.

At this point, donations are not tax deductible, but S&K Associates is seeking tax exempt status for the trust.

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