The ATV accident that changed my life

By Rita Patterson, Department of Family Medicine

Patterson WebI was attending an event at work when I learned that my husband, Les, had crashed his all-terrain vehicle near our Weatherford home.

The ATV rolled onto his leg, crushing it. He hollered for help until a neighbor heard him and called 911.

The next year was a painful slog of related medical problems and rehabilitation that ultimately resulted in the amputation of his leg. Les went on long-term disability and had to leave his job as a plant manager.

I was no stranger to the many ways lost mobility impacts lives. Ironically, the study of movement and pursuit of novel treatments for people with function and balance problems is precisely what I do at UNT Health Science Center.

Trained as a biomedical engineer, I joined UNTHSC in 2007 and oversaw development of the Human Movement Performance Laboratory. This innovative and collaborative lab uses advanced technology to discover ways to improve the quality of life for amputees, children and adults with autism, stroke victims, people with diabetes and Parkinson’s disease and more.

I had always empathized with the research participants I encountered, of course. They are the focus of my life’s work. But, as Les and I adjusted to his limited mobility, I learned some things that deepened my passion for the people we try to help.

I learned that many otherwise mundane tasks — like simply bathing —can require gigantic effort for a person with limited mobility. I learned that knowing when to help someone and when to let him or her accomplish a task alone is important.

I learned how people with disabilities are often treated in public. Some store owners seem to believe they are all poor and have no money. Other people have an underlying perception that they are dumb and or must have cognitive problems.

When I talk to research participants or their families, I am able to tell them: “I understand how you feel. We have been through that, too.”

My husband’s accident was eight years ago. Today, Les walks on a prosthetic leg and has developed a passion for people with prostheses. He founded the Fort Worth Amputee Coalition, a support group that and has achieved nonprofit status.

Just last night, he went to a group meeting and it drew 17 people with prostheses. They are raising money to help provide prostheses for children as they age into adults.

In a sense, we now share the same goal — to help people move a little better in this world.


Rita Patterson, PhD, is a Professor of Family Medicine, Director of Research for the Department of Manipulative Medicine and Director of the Human Movement Performance Laboratory.

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