After severe injury, man recovers, thrives, then helps others

SFM employees recently heard the inspiring story of a man who not only overcame a tragic accident that cost him both legs, but used the experience to help others.

Aaron Holm, founder of Wiggle Your Toes, a nonprofit that helps amputees, spoke at the company's all-employee meeting in October.

Simple gesture leads to serious injury

His story starts on a cold January morning in 2007.

He got a call from his administrative assistant to say she was stuck on the side of Interstate 394 with a flat tire, and help was on the way. Fifteen minutes later, she called again to say her help was called to an emergency and wasn't coming.

Holm drove out to pick her up, and figured he'd take a few minutes to change the tire while he was there, so that she could get her car to a repair shop. While working on the car, he was hit from behind by a vehicle traveling 55 mph.

Despite the severity of his injuries he was clear-headed enough to coach his assistant, who was in shock, through calling an ambulance.

Family and friends spring to action

As he lay in the hospital in the hours after the accident, Holm remembers thinking about his wife and three young children, and wondering how he'd go on to live a normal life again.

"I had no idea what the rest of my life looked like," he said.

It didn't take long before Holm, his family and friends sprang into action to find answers.

Within 24 hours of the accident, they divided into project teams that developed strategies to help him return to a normal, productive life.

"Within 48 hours of my injury, my house was being basically torn apart," he said. "Ramps were being built, stair lifts were being put in," and he was able to return home about 10 days after his accident.

Throughout his recovery, Holm found creative ways to speed up his progress. He used a liquid bandage product on his legs before going into physical therapy so that the prosthetics wouldn't tear his skin and delay future sessions. He installed parallel bars in his basement so he could get in extra practice. He used golfing as a way to learn to walk on his prosthetics.

"My kids motivated me," he said. "They were not slowing down and I couldn't either."

Holm starts hearing from others who lost limbs

He was able to return to his job at an engineering and IT staffing company, and his recovery had been so successful that he was getting calls asking for help from family members and friends of people who'd suffered similar injuries.

One such call led Holm to visit a man in the hospital who had lost both legs to the strep virus.

He'd been hospitalized for six months and was due to be released in a week.

He asked the man's wife, "What have you done to your house so that he can get in?"

She'd been so busy taking care of their three kids, working full time and visiting her husband in the hospital, it had never occurred to her to start working on home modifications.

Holm was able to make a few calls and get a ramp installed within a day. At that point, he realized he wanted to do more to help people like her. That's when he decided to quit his job to start Wiggle Your Toes.

Wiggle Your Toes is formed

Holm founded Wiggle Your Toes in December of 2008 to help those who have lost limbs. The organization helps those individuals in their recovery and rehab efforts by assisting with things like home remodeling, getting prosthetics or working with insurers.

In one example, the organization was invited by the Boston Medical Center two days after the Boston Marathon bombing to work with the individuals who had lost limbs in the incident. Most of them are doing well now, he said.

"To this day, we're great friends," he said. "We've had many of them up here in Minneapolis speaking at our events."

Holm has also been invited to speak about the organization at the next South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.

In addition to his work with the organization, Holm also now works for Ottobock, the manufacturer of his prosthetics, as director of customer engagement. He heads the company's U.S. Paralympic Committee and he manages the company's partnerships with other groups like Wiggle Your Toes. He also visits Washington D.C. to educate legislators about prosthetics.

Looking back, Holm says he's amazed by how far he's come and what he's been able to be part of.

"I never would have imagined," he said, "laying on the side of the road or laying in my hospital bed that I would be telling my story as a success story."

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