Two years ago, Bruce Bridges lost his leg to osteosarcoma. But after a successful stint at Atrium Health's Carolinas Rehabilitation, this motivated 7th grade science teacher is taking part in 24 Hours of Booty to inspire others battling cancer.

News | 4 years ago

Building a Wheelchair Ramp Helped Save this Teacher’s Life

Two years ago, Bruce Bridges lost his leg to osteosarcoma. But after a successful stint at Atrium Health'sCarolinas Rehabilitation, this motivated 7th grade science teacher from Cleveland County is taking part in 24 Hours of Booty to inspire others battling cancer.

In March of 2017, Cleveland County Schools' science teacher Bruce Bridges was helping a group from his church build a wheelchair ramp at an amputee’s home when he bumped his leg. Not thinking much of it, Bruce assumed the painful leg injury would heal up quickly.

Unfortunately, the pain persisted. So eventually Bruce went to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma — a common form of bone cancer that begins in the cells making up the bones.

It’s a good thing Bruce was out in the world giving back. Because it was this fateful bump that helped him discover his cancer in time — and promptly get the care he needed.

Now cancer-free, Bruce isn’t done giving back to the community as he prepares to ride in the 2019 24 Hours of Booty charity fundraiser ride in Charlotte. More than 1,200 cyclists and 200 walkers will help ride and walk for 24 hours straight to raise funds for Atrium Health's Levine Cancer Institute, Levine Children's Hospital, The LIVESTRONG Foundation and Queens University of Charlotte. 

Battling bone cancer

When Bruce first came to the hospital with his painful leg, doctors found that his cancer was progressing rapidly. Given the circumstances, he was given a tough choice: remove the bone and face a 50% chance the cancer returns or amputate the leg and reduce the chance of relapse down to 15%.

Although it was a difficult choice, Bruce weighed his options and opted for amputation.

So hardly a month after his diagnosis, Jeffrey S. Kneisl, MD , a surgeon with Levine Cancer Institute specializing in rare and complex sarcomas, performed the amputation.

After adjusting to life with just one leg in the hospital for a couple weeks, Bruce was referred to Atrium Health's Carolinas Rehabilitation where he could begin his recovery.

Powering through rehabilitation

“By participating in 24 Hours of Booty, I want to help provide the same care that I experienced to other people who are battling cancer,” says Bruce.

In his case, his dedicated care team at Carolinas Rehabilitation have played a crucial role in helping him get back to doing the things he loves, like gardening, traveling, and inspiring his seventh grade students at Crest Middle School in Shelby, N.C..

At Carolinas Rehabilitation, Bruce worked with cancer rehabilitation physician Terrence Pugh, MD , and physical therapist Joanna Lankford. With the help of a new prosthetic leg, together they sketched out simple goals for Bruce — like relearning how to walk up stairs and walking on uneven ground.

“Joanna and Dr. Pugh inspired me to accomplish these goals I set,” says Bruce. “Joanna tirelessly showed me that I could overcome these obstacles, and Dr. Pugh always had time to listen to my concerns and make suggestions to solve whatever came up.”

While Bruce is quick to praise his care team, Joanna and Dr. Pugh know just how big a role Bruce himself played in his rehab success.

“Bruce bought into the rehab process from day one,” says Dr. Pugh. “He worked hard to reach the goals that he’s attained and that’s why he’s where he is today.”

“He was always determined that his amputation wouldn't slow him down,” adds Joanna. “And he worked hard to make that the case.”

Since leaving rehab, Bruce has worked tirelessly to help other patients reach the same outcomes he’s reached, serving as an encouraging peer mentor for other patients recovering from amputations. He’s also stayed involved with Carolinas Rehabilitation, and even brought Dr. Pugh and Joanna into his classroom to share their experiences with his seventh graders.

And now, Bruce’s dedication to other patients and survivors will culminate in his 24 Hours of Booty ride this July.

Riding to live

“For the last couple of years, we’ve had fundraisers for the LCI 24 Hours of Booty team,” explains Joanna. “Dr. Pugh and I decided it would be so meaningful to raise money for a former patient — so we immediately thought of asking Bruce if he’d be interested. After all, Bruce is determined, motivated, inspiring and a diligent worker.”

Bruce hadn’t been on a bike since the amputation. But once he decided to participate in 24 Hours of Booty, he quickly got to work preparing — and has been biking at least 2 miles nearly every day.

“We're so excited to support Bruce and know that his efforts and determination will inspire us – as they always have,” says Joanna.

As the day of the race approaches, Bruce has one simple goal in mind.

“I want to inspire others that in spite of the disease we are fighting and the handicaps it may bring, we won't let it keep us from the things we like to do,” he says. And on July 26, he’ll be able to do just that.

Learn more about cancer rehabilitation at Atrium Health.