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Raleigh hit-and-run victim finds kindness from stranger

Posted December 23, 2013

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— For 20-year-old Ana Kessel of Raleigh, the seemingly simple things in life – getting ready for the day, cooking or going out with friends – now requires more time, sometimes more help and usually more planning.

"Sometimes, when I want to go out to eat with my friends, I have to think: Is this restaurant wheelchair accessible? Is there handicapped parking – stuff I would never have had to think about before," she said.

By before, she means Nov. 11, when she was injured in a hit-and-run crash while riding her moped on Rock Quarry Road in southeast Raleigh.

She awoke in a local hospital – unsure of what had happened to her – to find out that she had lost her right leg.

"The biggest adjustment is not being able to do everything myself, and sometimes, it's frustrating always having to need help," Kessel said. "But there's nothing really that I'm not optimistic about. It's just a matter of being patient."

The accident put Kessel life on hold and left her with the challenge to recover and a struggle to find a way to pay for a prosthetic leg.

Without insurance, a new leg would cost anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000.

After hearing Kessel's story, Stacie Varner, of Durham, was reminded of her late father, Richard Lathrop, who died five months ago at age 65.

"It made me think of my father, knowing that he had lost his leg due to an accident," Varner said.

A victim of a drunken-driving crash in 1975, Lathrop spent nearly two years recovering after being hit head-on. In 1985, he was the victim of a hit-and-run.

Three years later, he was involved in a third hit-and-run, and after numerous surgeries over the next nine years, he finally decided to have his leg amputated so he could carry on with his life.

"He was amazing. He was a very understanding man, a hard worker," Varner said. "He loved his family. He loved life unconditionally."

That's why, she says, Kessel's story touched her and moved her to donate to Kessel her father's prosthetic – something the family had held onto to remind them of the man he was.

"His strength, his warmth, his dedication, his confidence – when I met Ana, I could see part of my dad in her. When I met her, I felt like I knew her," Varner said. "She is strong, brilliant, very determined, and that's what I liked about her."

"Her dad seemed like a really strong guy," Kessel said. "He fought all the way through his life, got hit by a car three times and still made it."

Once her leg wound is healed, Brian Gold, of Beacon Prosthetics & Orthotics in Raleigh, will customize the prosthetic for Kessel.

Gold will use the same knee and mold the rest of the prosthetic to the measurements of Kessel's leg. Technological advances will allow the prosthetic leg to adapt to the way she walks.

"If it senses that she does catch her toe, or steps on a rock or something in the environment, it can react quick enough to keep her from falling, which is a huge advantage," Gold said.

It can even help her dance again.

"She's told me that she wants to get back to dancing," Gold said. "So, the foot will be important as well so that it doesn't feel dead. We want it to have some life and give her a little bit of spring in her step."

For Kessel, the outpouring of generosity is unlike anything she could have ever imagined.

She still has thousands of dollars in medical expenses to pay, as well as the cost of customizing the prosthetic, but she says she is grateful for the support she's received.

"I'm still really surprised by all this. It's like the kind of thing that you only see happen in movies and on TV," she said. "This kind of stuff doesn't normally happen, so I understand that not everybody is this fortunate, and there is definitely a lot of kindness."

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