Walking into Wilson Ortega's hospital room, visitors and staff are greeted with a big smile. Wednesday afternoon, the 34-year-old sat on the bed after taking a lunch break while his new prosthetic legs laid on the couch.
Both of Ortega's legs were amputated in May after a work accident on a construction site in South Boston. For the past two weeks, he has been learning to walk again with the help of physical therapists at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Charlestown.
"Over time, my body became accustomed to it," Ortega said in Spanish. "When I first arrived, I could only stand for a few seconds at a time, but I couldn't take steps without a walker. Now, thanks to God, I can stand for much longer and walk with a cane."
With just a few days left until he is released after his second stay at the hospital, he is working on motor skills he will need to navigate the world with his new prostheses, such as stepping over obstacles, walking up and down stairs, and getting up off the floor if should fall.
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These movements that may come easily for others take great strength, both physically and mentally, for Ortega to complete at this stage of his recovery. While sweat dripped down his face as he worked through these exercises, he completed each challenge with a smile and enthusiasm to keep going. He said the pain from the injury was gruesome, and the healing process was painful, but the most difficult part has been the impact on his family.
Ortega became emotional as he recalled when his 6-year-old son saw him walk for the first time with his prosthetic legs. While he did not allow himself to get excited yet, he said his son was smiling and full of joy.
"It's God's will," he said. "At the very least, I am OK, I am alive, I have my health. Now I can walk again, and I can hug my son, I can hug my family."
He said he has had moments of doubt, but he decides to keep going.
"When life hits you with something, you are not knocked out until you decide not to pick yourself up. If you decide to stay on the ground, you are knocked out. I always say that I was not going to stay knocked out. God will have me until the day he decides otherwise. I will always pick myself up," Ortega said.
Dr. David Crandell, who has been working with Ortega on his recovery since the accident, says the fact that he is a healthy young man saved his life, and his determination contributed to the tremendous progress he has made.
"We were able to capitalize on his upper limb strength, his motivation, and I say his 'corazon,' his heart, he was really determined to be successful," Crandell said.
At the end of his session Wednesday afternoon, Crandell talked to Ortega about considering Paralympic sports.
"We don't know what his ultimate end point is, but we have very high goals for him and that process," Crandell said. "As terrible as the initial injury was, he can get back to a very high quality of life and do quite well."
Ortega says he's not sure what the future will hold for him, but he is looking forward to spending more time with his son and family in Santo Domingo. He also wants to help others by sharing his experience with people going through difficult times.
"However difficult, whatever the situation may be, never give up, because they are just moments in your life. Life gets worse or it gets better, but it will not stay that way. One can change. The future is not written, you can make your own future. This happened, now we have to move forward," he said. "There are millions of people that are in worse situations than we are. I see it daily. So why not give thanks to God for our situation and ask for strength?"