Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Scott Martin played his last soccer game on July 9, 1993. Two days later, he almost died.
It was a typical game, competitive and lighthearted with a lot of teasing among the players. He was playing midfield in a match against other professionals and coaches at a Nike soccer camp in Chicago.
For Martin, the sport was his life. He was 35 at the time and coached at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He had broken up with his girlfriend and quit teaching high school so he could take the job. He had plans to climb the ranks and become a Division I coach and then maybe make it to the pros.
But that night, something was wrong. He came down with chills and began vomiting. The hospital treated him for heat exhaustion and dismissed him. The next day, the symptoms grew worse. The last thing he remembered was his stepfather driving him to the hospital.
“I must have blocked it out because I was told I had been joking with the doctors and nurses,” Martin said. “It must’ve been a defense mechanism ... (the memory) is gone.”
Unbeknownst to him, he had contracted flesh-eating bacteria. He went into a coma and underwent four surgeries. His mom received a call from the hospital suggesting she call a pastor because he was about to die.
He woke up a month later with no hands or feet — his life changed forever. Now he’s writing a memoir titled “Moving Forward in Reverse” to share those experiences with readers.
“A couple years ago, when I realized it was almost 20 years since the illness and my kids were moving into high school, I realized now is the time to start (my memoir),” Martin said.
Martin, 54, lives in Las Vegas with his wife and five adopted children ranging in age from 10 to 15. He wears prosthetic feet and battery-operated hands made from aluminum and coated in a skin-colored rubber mold to look realistic.
They attach to his forearms and use his muscles to send a pulse to operate the fingers. It allows him to do things such as open and close his hands as he talks or show his children how to make stove-top popcorn. An accident involving the latter sliced off a fingertip and cut a gash between his thumb and pointer.
He goes through about two pairs a year because the aluminum keeps breaking, Martin said.
When he isn’t running errands, he’s in his office sending emails (he types with his thumbs) to co-author Coryanne Hicks. Martin said the memoir has forced him to uncover difficult memories he had blocked out over the years.
“One of the things I found inside of me was a lot of guilt with what my family had to go through,” Martin said. “... They didn’t know for weeks what was going to happen (to me).”
After his surgeries, he had to relearn even the most basic things. At first, he said, took him three hours to get ready in the morning. He also had to learn how to coach without showing his players what he wanted.
Meanwhile, people perceived him differently. He wrote a passage for “Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive” that described an incident in which his prosthetics caused shrieks of disgust from two female college students. Experiences like that kept him from wearing short-sleeved T-shirts and often sent him into a shaming spiral.
It wasn’t until he met his wife and they adopted their first two of five kids that everything changed.
“When I met Ellen and adopted the kids, that did more for me than any medications,” Martin said.
Now people rarely notice he’s missing hands or feet, and he couldn't care less. He makes it a priority to do things as normal as possible. Nothing in his house is catered to his handicap, and his wife refuses to let him make excuses to avoid doing work.
“I always tell people I never married a disabled man; I married Scott,” Ellen Martin said.
Martin said he hopes to have the book finished by January and then will begin the process of pitching it to publishers to have it printed. He hopes handicapped people will find support in his story.
But Ellen Martin said the memoir’s biggest impact may have been on her husband. It helped him confront biggest change in his life: the fact that he could never play soccer again.
“He didn’t want to give it up. He tried to coach, he wrote a manual, he did all these things from sitting down, but he didn’t face the fact that he couldn’t run anymore, he couldn’t kick the ball anymore,” Ellen Martin said. “This has helped him come back to his first love again.”