October 5, 2013

Months after losing leg, Wichita man is determined to finish race

He knows he can’t back out now.

He knows he can’t back out now.

Greg Balandran committed to this when he couldn’t even walk. He committed to it even though his doctors had explained to his family that he’d never be able to run again.

Less than a year after his right leg was amputated below the knee, Balandran, a 29-year-old Spirit AeroSystems engineer, will compete Saturday in the 5K race at the sixth annual Rosstoberfest Run through College Hill, an event that raises money for Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy.

Months of pain and frustration had led him to a fork in the road: He could either spiral downward and or get back up. He decided to get back up and get going.

“It kind of makes you rethink everything – just the way I was looking at life,” Balandran said. “In a way, it was almost like a good thing. Sometimes God works in mysterious ways.”

It happened on Dec. 8, 2012. Balandran was playing a pickup football game at a local elementary school with his buddies when he caught a pass, planted his foot to juke a defender, stepped in a hole and broke multiple bones in his ankle.

Surgery the next day left 14 screws in the ankle.

Medical decisions were made that led to complications the next week. The agony was intense. Minutes seemed like hours. Medication wasn’t helping.

Further treatment made the situation a little better, Balandran said, but by Dec. 23, his toes had turned purple.

Three days later, his wife, Joy, went to the hospital to give birth to the couple’s second son, Antonio. Balandran was able to be with them for an hour, then had to go to the emergency room. Another visit with his doctor followed that day, and it ended with a decision to amputate.

The amputation came two days after Antonio was born.

Balandran appreciated the irony of the fact that when he was working on his master’s degree five years ago, he had helped his professor try to develop a prosthetic ankle for below-knee amputees. They sometimes wondered where they’d find somebody to test it.

The amputation helped Balandran reprioritize his life and form a stronger relationship with God, he said. It is hard for him to be angry about what happened with his medical treatment because he got something so positive out of all this.

He saw that he wanted above all to be with his family, which includes 3-year old Gregorio. He wanted to be able to carry his new son, Antonio, around. So when the stitches came out of his stump, he decided to stop his medication cold.

“It was rough,” Balandran said. “I got the chills and was aching everywhere.”

But his determination was strong. Joy Balandran said it helped the whole family get through the ordeal.

“His attitude has just been so positive, he gave all of us strength,” she said.

So Balandran, who has been athletic all his life but has never been a distance runner, will be running in the 5K at Rosstoberfest on Saturday, which happens to be his mother’s birthday. His parents are coming from Tulsa to be there. A brother and cousin are coming from Kansas City. A brother from Uruguay, coincidentally in town for business, will be there, as well.

Running on his prosthetic blade is no fun, Balandran said, but he has been preparing for the race by trying a combination of walking and running. His goal Saturday is to run the whole way without walking.

“I don’t know. We’ll see,” Balandran said. “I think with my family there, that might help push me.”

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