Tyler Kapinus who lost his leg in May while saving his father from being killed under the family’s construction vehicle. Jake Danna Stevens / Staff Photographer
Reposted from the Scranton Times Tribune. Published February 7, 2016. Gia Mazur, Staff Writer
Set goal. Work hard. Obtain goal. Repeat.
Tyler Kapinus has followed this formula his entire life.
He worked hard during his time at Valley View High School, juggling his duties as fullback and linebacker for the Cougars and keeping his grades up, which helped him earn a scholarship to Lycoming College.
In his first three years of college, Mr. Kapinus maintained the grind. He played as linebacker for the Warriors, made dean’s list and, as a business management major, landed an internship with State Farm in Williamsport.
Last spring, Mr. Kapinus came home to Eynon for summer break with his sights set on enjoying his senior year, graduating and acquiring a job in his field.
One week before Mr. Kapinus was set to begin his internship, his plan hit a major snag.
On May 11, the then-21-year-old was helping his father, Mike, who owns a construction and excavating company, as he tried to fix a work truck at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Moscow.
The vehicle jerked suddenly and began to roll, with Mr. Kapinus’ father underneath.
“My first reaction was to try to hang on to the truck,” Mr. Kapinus, now 22, said during a recent afternoon in his childhood home. “Try and stop it to save him. I was just thinking about my dad.”
Mr. Kapinus’ father escaped with head lacerations and a broken arm, but Mr. Kapinus traveled about 30 yards with the truck until it slammed into a tree, where it pinned his leg.
Mr. Kapinus, who remained conscious the whole time, was taken to Geisinger-Community Medical Center, where he was told his leg would have to be amputated, starting 12 inches above the knee.
For someone else, this might have been a major setback before the start of their last year of college. But Mr. Kapinus refused to be derailed. He set his sights on starting his senior year on time and returning to the football team and his friends at school.
“I told (doctors) ‘I want to be ready for Aug. 12,’” he said. “That was my goal. So no matter what anybody said to me, I was going to do it.”
Getting back to Lycoming in under three months meant a rough road to recovery. Securing a prosthetic leg in time and having enough stamina to learn how to walk on it were huge hurdles to clear.
But Mr. Kapinus said hard work was something instilled in him and his sister from a young age by their parents and grandparents, and he put those lessons to good use.
Physical therapist Mark Myers worked directly with Mr. Kapinus at Allied Services Rehabilitation right after he was released from the hospital in early June and when he received the prosthetic leg in August.
From day one, Mr. Myers said Mr. Kapinus was extraordinarily motivated.
“It was almost unbelievable,” he said. “I didn’t know him before the accident but I think he’s got this baseline personality when he goes after something he just puts his 110 percent into it.”
Mr. Kapinus initially worked on balance, wheelchair use and use of his remaining leg to walk short distances with aid. Upon release from Allied, he spent the rest of the summer at home exercising on his own to strengthen his hip muscle.
A competitive power lifter before the accident, Mr. Kapinus wasn’t used to the new angles of his workouts, but he was determined to get his body ready to walk with his prosthetic leg as soon as he received it.
“It takes a little bit of time, but I did everything I possibly could to get to a point where I’m at now,” he said. “And it got easier and easier every day.”
The first day of school was fast approaching when Mr. Kapinus received his prosthetic leg.
It can be difficult to learn how to use a prosthetic leg that begins above the knee, like Mr. Kapinus’, Mr. Myers said, but his athleticism gave him an edge in learning how to walk with it. He was very coordinated and had great balance, but it was his drive that was unparalleled, Mr. Myers said.
“He’s got that look in his eye (like) he’s going to put his mind to something and he’s going to accomplish it,” Mr. Myers said.
Mr. Kapinus arrived at Allied to learn to use his prosthetic leg on a Tuesday. By that Friday, he was walking on his own.
“Reaching independence with a walker is good. With a cane, it’s really good. But, with an above- the-knee prosthesis walking without a cane, in four days, is almost unheard of,” Mr. Myers said.
From there, Mr. Kapinus set his sights on re-learning to drive using left and right foot pedals. According to Kelly Wolfe, a vocational rehab counselor at Offices of Vocational Rehab in Wilkes-Barre, who worked with Mr. Kapinus’ case, most people have to go through 15 to 20 one-to-two-hour sessions of driver’s training before they are cleared to drive. Mr. Kapinus completed four two-hour sessions and was ready to get his white Dodge Ram on the road.
“His case was amazing but also a blur because we did things so quick with him,” Mrs. Wolfe said, laughing.
Mr. Kapinus returned to Lycoming College on Aug. 12 as planned. He delved into assisting with the football team, coaching running backs an fullbacks, and got back to his school work and his friends.
“I don’t want to say, like, nothing happened, because it did, but I don’t want them to treat me any differently,” he said. “I just want to live like it was before, or at least as close as possible to that.”
Mr. Kapinus’ mother, Michele, said his positivity and upbeat attitude is something that has been there his entire life.
“He’s just got one of those personalities. People like him. Maybe I sound prejudiced because he’s my kid,” she said with a laugh. “But he’s a very compassionate, considerate kid. He has a real big heart.”
If the droves of visitors to his hospital room were any indication, people are drawn to Mr. Kapinus. He was moved to his own private room to accommodate the number of family members, friends, coaches and teammates that came through.
Even though the situation could have been somber, Mr. Kapinus said it meant the world to him that so many people came to visit, and he didn’t want anyone to feel bad for him.
In order to keep the mood upbeat, Mr. Kapinus told his college friends that now he could dress up as a pirate for Halloween, which he did.
“I didn’t want everybody coming and crying,” he said. “I know why they’re there. You don’t want anybody to be depressed.”
“He was trying to keep everybody happy, and that’s the kind of kid he is,” Mrs. Kapinus added. “He was more worried about everybody else at that point than himself.”
Mr. Kapinus continues to look toward his future. He is completing his internship and is set to graduate on May 7. He doesn’t know what he plans to do with his business degree yet, but he will follow opportunity wherever it leads with his signature attitude.
“Nothing is going to stop me,” Mr. Kapinus said. “I’m just going to keep moving forward no matter what.”
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Meet Tyler Kapinus
Family: Parents, Mike and Michele Kapinus; grandmother, Theresa Strony; sister, Lindsay
Education: Mr. Kapinus is a graduate of Valley View High School and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business management from Lycoming College.