Listen: Amputee Russell Hodge shares his story with Katrina Roe.
If you were in a car crash that changed your life forever, and then met the driver who was responsible, how would you respond? What emotions would you experience? What would you say?
These are the questions Russell Hodge faced in September 2006, while recovering in hospital from a road smash—one that could have taken his life.
He’d been riding his motorbike between Broken Hill and Dubbo, when an oncoming vehicle strayed onto his side of the road. Airlifted to Sydney, Russell’s leg had to be amputated.
“I remember most of what happened,” he told Hope 103.2. “I remember riding along, seeing a car doing strange things, trying to get out of the way. I remember getting up on my elbow, looking down at my leg, thinking ‘I’m in deep trouble here’. I remember that it wasn’t very long before help arrived.
“A passer-by stopped, gave first aid to me because I was bleeding, and somebody called the ambulance. I was at a remote location near Nyngan, and I remember hearing the ambulance siren, thinking ‘gee, that was quick’.”
How Amputation Saved Russell’s Life
Russell’s leg was so badly smashed in the road accident that doctors told his wife Sue there was no choice but to amputate.
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“It must have been terrible,” he said, of his wife’s decision. “But the doctors said ‘if we don’t amputate, Russell will die’. So there was really no option for her. I think they just put it to her as plainly as they could.”
Although his wife made the call to go ahead, Russell was made aware that he was about to lose his leg.
“I was in an induced coma and they brought me up out of that, so that Sue could actually tell me what was going to happen,” he said. “I tried to signal to her that I understood but I had tubes down my throat and I couldn’t speak. They got a letter board, and I was able to spell out a word that gave Sue the understanding that I knew what was going to happen.”
The Moment he Met the Other Driver
It was while Russell was in hospital that he met the driver of the other car in the collision.
Tracking back to the question at the start of this story, you’d be forgiven if anger, resentment and bitterness were part of your response—but for Russell Hodge, that was emotional territory he decided to avoid.
“I really had to think through how was I going to respond to him when I met him, if I ever had that opportunity,” Russell said.
“I expressed to him that I held no grudge but that I would offer my friendship to him, and that he hadn’t ruined my life, my life was bigger.”
“I had decided my response couldn’t be determined by his story. My response had to be determined by my story. I thought that was really important, because a lot of us tend to react dependent on what the reasons were. But I think for me, I had to respond out of my own story, my own character, what’s consistent for me.
“So I decided that I would forgive him.
“And so I had the opportunity that day to go and see him and express to him that I held no grudge or bitterness but that I would offer my friendship to him, and that he hadn’t ruined my life, my life was bigger.
“Even though my life had radically changed, I didn’t view that he had ruined my life. I think he found it more difficult to cope with than I did, in that regard.”
The Faith Behind his Thankful Perspective
As a man of faith, Russell said he has seen God’s goodness at work in his life since that accident 11 years ago.
“People bring in their theological kind of reasons for why things like this happen, and they’re not always that helpful—but definitely God’s faithfulness has been there the whole way through,” he said.
“So many good things have come as a result of what happened to me that day, that I wouldn’t turn back the clock. I think my wife and our relationship deepened, and I’ve had new opportunities to introduce others to God’s goodness.”
He still rides his motorbike, too—alongside his wife, who’s also a motorbike enthusiast.
Reaching out to Teenage Amputees at ‘Amp Camp’
One way God has used Russell’s experience for good, is in the annual camp he now runs for teenage amputees, called Amp Camp.
“I had been asked to go to Teen Ranch in Cobbitty in 2010, and be a camp speaker for one of their school holiday camps,” he said. “One of the other guys watched me as I was up on the high ropes, needing to be rescued because I’d fallen off the ropes and was dangling.
“After I got down, he said, ‘you should do something like this for teenagers who have had amputations’. I thought ‘that’s a great idea’. So in 2011 we started the first Amp Camp.”
The annual event gives young people a chance to meet others who have been through the same experiences as them, and to try the activities at the camp, including high ropes, abseiling, horse riding, canoeing and more.
“It’s about building a community, offering hope that you’re not journeying it alone,” Russell said.