By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — It happened in an instant and changed his life forever.
But Anthony Spinelli, 20, of Haverhill said the loss of his legs in a motorcycle crash last month isn’t going to prevent him from having a career or taking part in the sports he loves.
He said he still wants to get a job in federal law enforcement and is eager to return to school, as well as get back to surfing at Salisbury Beach and to competitive shooting, which is his greatest passion.
“He can’t wait to get back to the things he used to do,” said his father, Nick Spinelli. “Because of the technology that’s out there with advanced prosthetics, he hopes to be as close to the way he was as possible.”
A junior at Framingham State College majoring in criminology, Anthony Spinelli was driving his motorcycle on Route 9 west in Framingham on the night of Oct. 19 when he lost control as he approached a curve about 11:30 p.m.
His motorcycle crashed into a guardrail and he was thrown into the path of a car traveling east. He was on his way to visit his girlfriend, Grace Waterhouse, at her home in Westford, his parents said.
Anthony Spinelli said he remembers every detail of the crash.
“I hit a guardrail, got thrown into the oncoming lane and got run over by a Honda Civic,” he said. “I lost one limb and the other was crushed, and I lost four and a half liters of blood, yet I survived.
“I was laying there taking deep breaths and focusing on staying conscious,” he said.
Just moments after the crash, Nick Spinelli got a phone call at his Haverhill home. A young woman who heard the crash from her nearby home ran to the scene of the accident and put her cell phone on speaker phone for Anthony Spinelli.
“Dad, I love you,” Anthony Spinelli calmly told his father.
“At that instant I knew something was wrong,” Nick Spinelli said. “He told me he’d been in an accident and that he was pretty banged up. I told him I was heading there now.”
Nick Spinelli, his wife, Teri, their 15-year-old daughter Emily and 24-year-old niece Shayna Bryant headed to the emergency room at UMass Memorial Hospital in Worcester.
“They were wheeling him out of the ER when he looked at us and said, ‘Hi’ and told us he was going to be OK,’’ Nick Spinelli said.
He said that after the crash his son was literally seconds away from death when Brad Robillard happened upon the scene. He said Robillard, a nurse at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, wrapped leather belts around his son’s legs to stop the bleeding until an ambulance arrived.
“If he hadn’t arrived when he did, there is no way I would have made it,” Anthony Spinelli said.
Nick Spinelli said his son was wearing a helmet and was fortunate not to have suffered brain damage or something worse in the crash.
“The two things I did not want to hear were that he wasn’t going to make it and that he was going to be paralyzed,” Nick Spinelli said.
Anthony Spinelli’s right leg from below the knee was torn off in the crash and his left leg from above the knee was mangled so badly that several days later it had to be removed. He also suffered a broken left forearm, broken right femur, three broken fingers and a cracked pelvis.
“All of a sudden the hellish thought of his losing his legs was diminished,” Nick Spinelli said. “My son was alive and we’ll accept the fact that he will learn to live with prosthetics.”
“We’re all taking it one day a time,” Teri Spinelli said.
Nick Spinelli can’t help but think of how uneasy he was when in May his son told him he was buying a motorcycle, which he ended up trading in for a newer model.
“He’s a good kid, but he does like the thrill of things,” Nick Spinelli said. “I didn’t want him to get the bike.”
Nick Spinelli said his son took responsibility for the crash.
“Dad, I screwed up,” Anthony Spinelli told his father. “I just couldn’t negotiate the curve and went into it too hot.”
After a stay of about two weeks at UMass Memorial, Anthony Spinelli was transferred to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Charlestown.
A member of the Haverhill High Class of 2011, Anthony Spinelli won’t be physically ready to be fitted for prosthetics for a while.
He said it will be about two months before one can be fitted to his left leg and six months before he can be fitted with one for his right leg.
“He’s really athletic and wants them badly,” Teri Spinelli said about her son’s desire for prosthetics.
Friends and family are helping the Spinelli family modify their home to make it handicap accessible, and are also helping to raise money to pay for the kind of high-tech prosthetic devices Anthony Spinelli hopes to be fitted with.
“Without them we don’t know what we would do,” Nick Spinelli, a tile setter who runs a small business called Tile with Style, said of the friends.
Nick Spinelli said his son’s girlfriend has been spending a lot of time with him at Spaulding.
“I call her his Florence Nightingale,” Nick Spinelli said about Waterhouse, who happens to be a rehabilitation nurse.
Anthony Spinelli’s parents said their son’s health insurance will likely cover a standard prosthetic, but the kind that will offer him the best chance for mobility needed for work and to participate in sports will cost much more.
Anthony Spinelli has been spending time reading about these kinds of high-tech prosthetics.
He hopes to be fitted to a titanium and carbon fiber computerized Ottobock brand of knee and ankle prosthetic for his left leg, and a computerized ankle device for his right leg. He said the prosthetic for his left leg will cost more than $100,000 and is the same kind of device that is fitted to wounded military members who are returning to active duty. He said it was developed by the military. The device for his right leg will cost $10,000 to $15,000, Anthony Spinelli said.
“He told me he wants prosthetics and wants to get moving again,” Teri Spinelli said. “He’s in good spirits and it is remarkable, but that’s him.”
Anthony Spinelli expects to be at Spaulding for another three or four weeks. Each day he spends one and a half hours in physical therapy and occupational therapy.
“I’m making really good progress,” he said. “I told my therapist I want to get out of here so I’m working as hard as I can.”
Anthony Spinelli said that even when he was on the ground and unable to move after the crash, and he knew his leg was gone, he realized he’d get through it. He said he hopes one day to be able to encourage and advise others who suffer similar traumatic injuries and show they that they can overcome obstacles set before them.
He said his sense of humor is getting him through every day and that his girlfriend is there to comfort him.
“She stays with me every night while working two jobs and taking classes at Northeastern,” Anthony Spinelli said.
Before the crash, it was a good summer for Anthony Spinelli. An avid pistol shooting competitor, he got his dream job at the Sig Sauer firearms training academy in Epping, N.H., and also worked two other jobs.
“I plan to return to Sig Sauer as soon as I am able,” he said. “And I can’t wait to return to competitive shooting, which I’ll be doing from my wheelchair as soon as I get out.”
Several days after the crash, Nick and Teri Spinelli met with Robillard, the male nurse who tended to their son after his accident.
“I gave him an Angel pin,” Teri Spinelli said. “I told him he was Anthony’s angel that night and that he saved my son’s life.”
Friends of Anthony Spinelli have set up a “Spinelli Strong” fund at the Merrimack Valley Federal Credit Union. Donations support Anthony Spinelli’s medical expenses. They are also accepting donations for “Spinelli Strong” bracelets. You can visit Anthony Spinelli’s fundraising page online at www.gofundme.com/55rxao.