STILLWATER, Minn. (KMSP) - When Neil Hemen of Stillwater wades into the pool at Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute, he immediately comes alive. Even through the labored breathing that comes after a few laps, excitement fills his voice.
“It’s exciting—it’s just—it’s more than I can ever say,” said Hemen.
In 2000, Hemen was injured in a fork lift accident that would eventually claim his left leg. He was forced to make the agonizing decision to amputate in May 2006.
"It's like somebody just pulled the rug out from underneath me. Like, you're done,” he said. “ I might as well have died."
Hemen says he has battled Post Traumatic Stress from the accident, and at times, struggled to find the will to keep going.
"I was told, ‘you just got to stop and find another chapter’ and with Post Traumatic Stress, it's hard to find that chapter. It's hard to find what that chapter is.”
But all of that changed, when he got the opportunity to go on a cruise this winter.
When his medical team found out about the trip, they introduced something that was never discussed before—a waterproof, light weight prosthetic that would allow him to swim and snorkel.
“If it wasn't for me going on a cruise, the orthotics people never would have thought to make me one."
Hemen went to the Caribbean where he snorkeled, swam with sting rays, and hung around the pool. But he says the prosthetic has also improved life back home, as he can now stand up shower and swim laps.
"Just for me to be able to go into the shower or walk in the pool without going in a wheel chair is the best thing that ever happened. There's no words to even explain it,” he said.
Hemen is now swimming three days a week at the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Center in Stillwater.
He hopes by sharing his story other amputees will discover the waterproof prosthetic and find joy in new activities and expanded freedom.
"By coming here and having the support of clients and staff makes me feel like it's worth living again.”