Still Standing: Ben Shannon

Posted on Feb 6 2015 - 8:52am by Celeste Ritchason
Ben Shannon poses next to the helicopter he uses in his job as a flight nurse Wednesday. PHOTO BY: PAYTON TEFFNER

Ben Shannon poses next to the helicopter he uses in his job as a flight nurse Wednesday.

After a car accident resulting in the loss of his right leg, Ben Shannon has achieved goals he’d long thought impossible.

On Nov. 14, 2004, Ben Shannon and his friend were driving too fast down a county road. When he looked up, he saw a truck with its brights on merging toward them.  Shannon eased to the right side of the road.

What happened next changed his life forever.

When the spinning tires hit the loose roadside gravel, he lost control of his vehicle.

Shannon suffered a C-2 neck fracture, which required him to wear a halo for three months. He also broke bones in his face and left leg. But perhaps the most impactful injury occurred to his right leg – it was amputated above the knee.

Shannon grew up on a private lake in Mississippi; his favorite activity was water skiing. Many afternoons, when school was out, his mom would take him out on the water.

“That was the one thing I loved to do,” Shannon said. “I didn’t know if I would be able to water ski again.”

After his accident, it took Shannon about a year to fully regain the ability to do all the things he did before. He had to re-teach himself the smallest things, such as walking up stairs and putting on clothes.

“I was doing the same things I’ve always done but differently now that I only have one leg,” Shannon said. “You never realize what you have until it’s gone.”

Shannon said he thought about one day becoming a flight nurse while he was being airlifted to Memphis; even as he flew from one hospital to another, he was thinking of the future.

Shannon said many people doubted he would be able to succeed in the field, but he said this only made him more determined to reach his goal of being a flight nurse.

“I always knew I wanted to do something in the medical field,” Shannon said. “I just didn’t know what until my accident.”

Over the years, Shannon said he has been a “guinea pig” in the world of prosthetics. He was the youngest amputee to be fit for a Rheo Knee by USSÜR, which is a type of microprocessor knee. This leg has a computer inside that knows when to tighten and loosen. It gives resistance to the wearer when needed just like a person with use of both legs does to keep their knees from buckling.

“The microprocessor is my everyday leg, which is really beneficial in the field I am in,” Shannon said. “We never know what we are going to be doing.”

“Ben is one of our most inspirational success stories,” said Dr. Skip Martin, Shannon’s prosthetist at Precision Prosthetics in Memphis. “I wouldn’t put anything past him. He could do anything.”

Shannon said when he met Martin, also an amputee, for the first time, Martin jumped up into a chair and jumped out again.

“When I walked into Skip’s office, and he did this, I was like, ‘OK, I like this guy,’” Shannon said.

Shannon named Martin as the most influential person in his recovery.

In 2009, Shannon finished nursing school at Northeast Community College. He worked in the ER at North Mississippi Medical Center-Tupelo until 2010. He then worked as a charge nurse for Baptist Memorial Hospital-Oxford ER until August of 2011, when the State Department needed him to provide medical support for the remaining military forces in Iraq.

After a nine month tour, Shannon returned and was offered the head ER nurse position at Baptist Memorial Hospital.

“This was a big career step for me. There are only two head nurses in the ER,” Shannon said. “I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity because it wasn’t going to come back around.”

Shannon said he hadn’t forgotten about that day on the airlift – he still wanted to be a flight nurse.

This was no easy dream to follow, however. The average step into the helicopter is about three feet. Flight nurses can carry anywhere from 30 to 50 pounds while in the field. When responders arrive on the scene, they can be exposed to anything from getting down in ditches to climbing a hill. Physically demanding as it is, Shannon said he wouldn’t give it up.

In January 2013, he started flying part time with Pafford Air 1 Delta out of Clarksdale. Later that year, the phone call he had been waiting for finally came.

“The chief flight nurse for Hospital Wing, the company that picked me up from my wreck, called me about a position that opened up,” Shannon said. “I immediately told her yes and went in for an interview the following week.”

Josh Steele, director of Marketing and Business Development and Education for Hospital Wing, knew Shannon’s story before he met him through mutual friends. According to Steele, there was skepticism from senior crew members on how well Shannon would perform. Knowing all that he had accomplished since the accident, however, Steele said he had no doubt Shannon would succeed.

“He doesn’t let anything slow him down,” Steele said. “When he came on the job, you wouldn’t know he even had an injury.”

Shannon’s dedication to success rewarded him with the job he’d always wanted, but he didn’t expect to reclaim a childhood dream as well. Former U.S. Disabled Water Ski Team member, Bill Bowness, taught Shannon to ski, again.

Shannon bought his own boat, and now every summer, he and his friends go out to Sardis Lake to ski. He skis barefoot, one legged. Shannon wants to continue to get better and possibly make the U.S Disabled Water Ski Team.

“He got me up on the skis,” Shannon said. “Granted, I am no where near as good as I used to be, but I can ski again.”

Celeste Ritchason