June 27--Franklin firefighter Matthew Hicks is back doing what he loves -- saving people's lives -- after nearly losing his own in a motorcycle accident almost a year ago.
Hicks, 24, returned Friday to his job at the Franklin Fire Department for the first time since Sept. 28 when a car pulled out in front of him while riding his motorcycle on a two-lane Indiana highway. The collision threw Hicks 135 feet and resulted in multiple leg fractures.
Doctors at University Hospital in Cincinnati had to amputate a portion of Hicks' left leg below the knee.
"I thought it was over; thought I'd never work in the fire service again," said Hicks, who had only been with Franklin for nine months before the accident. "It was the most crushing feeling I ever had in my life."
Hicks would spend the next two and a half months in the hospital, then rehab. He recalled that it was the "most devastating feeling I ever felt in my life. I thought I'm not going to be able to do what I love anymore."
His love is firefighting, a career he's dreamed of ever since he was a kid. Franklin Fire Chief Jonathan Westendorf said it was a "painful, devastating and scary" experience, but he knew Hicks would be OK with the support of his family and fellow firefighters.
"For the first almost week or so, we had people there at the hospital around the clock just to help his family and let them know we were there and weren't forgetting about him," Westendorf said.
Mifflin Township firefighter Anthony Torres also made a special trip from the Columbus area to visit Hicks. The two had never met before, but now shared a common bond.
"He has a prosthetic leg, too," said Hicks. "Seeing him walking into the emergency room with high spirits, walking normal, saying he can perform everyday duty, that boosted my spirit exponentially. It was incredible."
Once back home in Green Township, Hicks continued with his rehab, learning to walk again. Meanwhile, retired Franklin fire captain Stu Dixon and Glendale fire captain Brian Messmore founded "Kicks for Hicks," a charity designed to raise money for a prosthetic leg for Hicks. Three fundraisers were held and approximately $10,000 was raised to purchase the prosthetic limb.
While the prosthetic leg gave Hicks the ability to walk again, he remained eager to return to work. But in order to do that Hicks would need another, specially designed prosthetic leg for the job.
A group known as 50 Legs stepped up about a month ago and helped Hicks achieve his hope of being a firefighter again. The advocacy organization provides amputees with the necessary care and prosthetics that they could not otherwise afford and promotes education and awareness of the needs of amputees.
The group paid for Hicks' flight, a 10-day stay in Orlando, Fla. and a special prosthetic leg for his fire boot that cost $27,000.
"I was brought to tears quite a few times...," Hicks said. "They gave me my life back. It was amazing, I can't describe it."
Hicks returned to work less than a year after his motorcycle accident.
"Nobody ever doubted for a minute that Matt would be back here," said Westendorf. "What we're surprised about is how quickly Matt is back here. He is the most special guy and has the right positive attitude. He has a long career ahead of him."
Hicks is able to perform all the duties of the job prior to his accident. He said it feels "amazing" to be back at the fire station.
"Nothing's changed, they all treat me the same," he said. "I wouldn't expect to be treated any differently. It's a big happy family. I love everyone here."
"Adapt and overcome" is a statement used in the fire service, Hicks said.
"It applies to any kind of situation," he said. "Don't give up on your dreams, always keep going forward."
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