Brad Hurtig, a double amputee, inspires audience at BWC medical symposium
By Tony Gottschlich, BWC Public Information Officer
The workplace accident that took Brad Hurtig’s hands in 2002 could have taken so much more from the high school student-athlete — his place as a star linebacker on the football team, his hopes, dreams and career goals.
But Hurtig, who gave the final lecture Friday at the 2018 Ohio Workers’ Compensation Medical & Health Symposium, wouldn’t let that happen, thanks to a coach who wanted him back on the team and a water bottle on the practice field.
“He invited me to practice when I got out of the hospital,” Hurtig recalled to hundreds of health care providers gathered at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. “It was in late July, super hot and muggy. There was a water bottle on the ground, and I asked my coach for a drink. Well, he paused for a moment, looked at the water bottle, then up at me and said something that would ultimately change my life: ‘If you’re thirsty enough, you’ll find a way.’”
Hurtig found a way, along with a new motto that propels him to this day as a motivational speaker and youth minister.
A three-sport jock, Hurtig had broken a school record for tackles as a middle linebacker his sophomore year. After his accident and a failed stint as a placekicker (“I was terrible”), he returned to his old position his senior year, broke more records (111 tackles) and made all-state honors in his division.
Now 33, the northwest Ohio resident travels the country talking to high schoolers, the media and others about perseverance through adversity. He calls his lecture, Find a Way: Turning Obstacles into Opportunities.
Speaking for about an hour to the symposium audience, Hurtig recalled the June day of his accident 16 years ago, shortly after finishing his sophomore year, and the journey that followed.
He was working in a friend’s family business, a metal shop, placing sheet metal in a 500-ton power press that stamped metal into automotive parts. One sheet was misaligned. He attempted to straighten it, but his friend at the control switch didn’t notice. The press came down, severing Hurtig’s right arm below the elbow and crushing his left hand.
“The first thing I remember wasn’t really the pain or even the physical sensation, it was hearing someone scream when they looked at me,” he said.
Hurtig spent 11 days in a Toledo hospital and endured multiple surgeries. In the weeks and months that followed, he worked closely with his medical team and BWC to adapt to his new life and make life adapt to him. BWC provided equipment so he could drive, open doors, turn the shower on and operate a computer. Key to his recovery were myoelectric prosthetic arms.
He removed his prosthetics and explained to the audience how they work. He spoke of the family, friends and health care providers who supported him throughout his ordeal, the empathy of doctors and others who seemed genuinely caring and dedicated to his recovery. “BWC was huge,” he said.
He also shared a couple of workplace safety tips:
- Stop and think. Impulsive, snap decisions get us into trouble.
- “If I just communicated with my friend, I would still have my hands.”
“The reality is we all have challenges in life, we all have setbacks, and I can tell you that how we handle those setbacks will in many ways define our lives,” he said. “Excuses will only get you so far. If you’re truly thirsty enough, you will find a way.”
For more on Hurtig, visit bradhurtigsafety.com.