Justin Carey is unsteady at first.
Dressed in a black t-shirt and black gym pants that have been trimmed to take into account the fact that he no longer has a right leg, the teenager grips the bars tightly as he stands.
It is the first time the Battle Ground teen has stood since June when he was hit by a car as he waited for the bus to take him to school.
On Tuesday, Carey was surrounded by his parents, his little sister and his best friend, Zach, in the offices of Evergreen Prosthetics where he was fitted with a prosthetic leg.
He takes a couple of steps forward, urged on by his family and then a step backward. Each step – regardless of direction – is progress. When he sits back down in his wheelchair, his family applauds.
The crash that had sent him flying off the side of the road 150 feet away into a ditch – it wasn’t until 90 minutes later when a tow truck came by that he was discovered – left the leg very badly damaged.
Things were made worse by an infection that was forcing doctors to remove muscle from his leg. It eventually reached the point where even if he kept the leg, it was unlikely he would get much use from it.
“The doctors told me it was my choice,” he remembers Tuesday as he sits at home, his girlfriend, Lexi, at his side. “They explained to me both sides, of keeping it and losing it and it just seemed what I had to do.”
Carey was unconscious for a couple of days after the crash. He remembers nothing of the incident. The investigation into the woman who hit him – she never told anyone what she had done – is still open.
“I just remember waking up, not sure what had happened,” he says. “Lexi was standing there. She told me she loves me.”
It’s been a long couple of months for the teen who once dreamed of going into the military; he had been in junior ROTC.
“I wasn’t that much of an athlete but I loved being outdoors, going on hikes,” he says. “I still love being outside. It’s just going to take time to get strong.”
Carey says the toughest part of deciding to lose the leg was the thought that he would never walk again.
“That was hard,” he says. “But the doctors told me it would not be forever and after a bit, I came to understand that it would not be forever.”
He has spent the past couple of months trying to be focused on recovering, though he concedes it hasn’t always been easy. And while there has been exhaustion and pain, he’s tried to stay positive.
“I have been lucky,” he says. “I was lucky that I was found. I am lucky that I have my family and Lexi and my friends. My brother and sister have been very helpful. They have helped me a lot.”
Carey is focusing on Wednesday and going back to school.
“It’s going to be tough, I think,” he says. “There’s going to be a lot of people and that makes me a little nervous.”
Carey is going to start his junior year off in a wheelchair, being able to use the prosthetic leg regularly is going to take time.
“Today I was really just trying it out,” he says. “I have to get used to it, learn to use it. I’m going to need a lot of practice. I’m up for it, though. I’m not giving up hope.”