Eli Ruiz | Democrat
When you first meet Jo Hanna Shaver, the first thing you notice is that smile. Next, you notice her unusually large collection of John Wayne movies and memorabilia. Jo Hanna, 16, has been a member of the Monticello High School tennis team since she was a sophomore and also enjoys rock climbing, swimming, roller skating and has even bungee jumped. Sounds unremarkable until you realize that Jo Hanna is missing her right leg.
She took a long hard road to hardcourts
Story by Eli Ruiz
When you first meet Jo Hanna Shaver, the first thing you notice is that smile.
Next, you notice her unusually large collection of John Wayne movies and memorabilia. Jo Hanna, 16, has been a member of the Monticello High School tennis team since she was a sophomore and also enjoys rock climbing, swimming, roller skating and has even bungee jumped.
Sounds unremarkable until you realize that Jo Hanna is missing her right leg.
Jo Hanna Shaver is an amputee.
As a 3-year-old she was as inquisitive and curious as any normal child that age would be, but that curiosity got this youngest of eight children into life-changing trouble one day in late August of 1999.
As her mother Sandy Shaver tells it, “My husband was the caretaker of a bungalow colony on Old Liberty Road at the time, and that particular day I was on the riding mower, mowing the lawn.”
Sandy was helping out when the mower “seized up” on her. “I turned and when I looked down I saw that my daughter was underneath the mower… she was so small, all I could see was her from her shoulders up.”
Unbeknown to Mrs. Shaver, Jo Hanna had been running close behind the large mower when she slipped on some fresh cut grass and slid under the machine.
Little Jo Hanna lay there with a shattered femur, her leg impaled at the thigh by the mower blade.
“It was a nightmare. The fire department had to come and they had to carefully separate the blade from the mower… that’s how they flew her to Westchester [Medical Center], with the blade still stuck in her leg,” said Sandy Shaver. “She [Jo Hanna] wasn’t even crying,” adds Shaver.
For more than a year after the accident Jo Hanna had to endure more than 40 surgeries. One procedure involved the grafting of one of Jo Hanna’s stomach muscles to her leg in an attempt to regenerate muscle growth. Another similar attempt saw doctors join the youngster’s legs at the calf, a procedure Mrs. Shaver says Jo Hanna was only the second person and the first child to receive.
All attempts at saving Jo Hanna’s leg failed and in February of 2001 doctors gave her choices: 1. Keep the leg but end up in a wheelchair the rest of her life or 2. Have the leg amputated and through the use of a prosthesis and extensive physical therapy, she might be able to walk again. Jo Hanna and her mother opted for the amputation. “It was very difficult because for more than a year we thought doctors would be able to save the leg, only to be faced with this decision in the end,” explains Mrs. Shaver. Jo Hanna’s amputation, called a disarticulation, involved amputating the leg at mid-knee where the femur and fibula meet.
As Mrs. Shaver explains, “The day of the amputation a gentleman from the prosthetic company was there, and he gave us the idea of coming up with a goal for Jo Hanna.”
Jo Hanna chose roller skating as her goal.
Doctors stressed that such a goal would take no less than 6 months to achieve. Jo Hanna’s leg was amputated in mid-February of 2001. She received her prosthesis in late March. Amazingly, by mid-April Jo Hanna was on skates, beating doctors’ best estimates by a full four months.
“She’s amazing and so determined to do the things she wants to do… she doesn’t believe she’s handicapped at all,” says Jo Hanna’s mother.
Jo Hanna attributes this to how her mother and family treated her while she was in recovery. “They all encouraged me to be independent,” she says. “They helped me when I really needed it, but not too much.”
Shaver’s interest in tennis was piqued by a Japanese anime cartoon. “I wanted to join a sport and I’m a huge fan of anime. I was watching once and it was about tennis, it looked cool so I thought I’d give it a try,” explained Shaver.
A strong swimmer, Shaver says she wants to try her hand at lifeguarding next summer. “You should see her hop her way to the pool and then just dive right in… even with one leg she’s like a fish,” said Jo Hanna’s sister in-law Crystal Shaver.
She even talks to elderly folks at Catskill Regional and at her physical therapist who’ve gone through amputations. “I like to make people smile, and I want to encourage people and let them know that anything’s possible if you put your heart into it.”