In July 2016, Noelle Lambert was a 19-year-old student and lacrosse player at UMass Lowell when she lost her leg in a moped accident. This is her story, as told to Megan Johnson:
It was my first time ever going to Martha’s Vineyard. Me and my friend Kelly, she’s also on the lacrosse team, went to visit one of our other friends who attends UMass Lowell. Kelly and I rented a moped, and I’d never driven one before. Kelly had driven one previously, but hadn’t had a good experience, so I told told her I would do it. We were just going to the other side of the island. I was on the main road and I lost the steering. I veered left and went into a dump truck. I remember hitting it, and then being on the ground. I looked down at my leg, and it was gone. Obviously, lacrosse was one of the first things I thought of, that I was never going to be able to play again.
The guy that was driving behind us was the first one to come toward me, and he took his shirt off and wrapped it around my leg, which basically saved my life, because I hit a major artery. I remember them saying, ‘Everything’s fine, you’re gonna be OK,’ and I said ‘No, my leg is gone.’
The ambulance and EMT showed up, and I remember them putting the tourniquet on and they were like, ‘It’s gonna hurt.’ They put the tourniquet on so tight I had to get stitches on my groin.
I was transported to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital before being airlifted to Boston Medical Center, where the rest of my leg was amputated above the knee.
I knew that I had lost my leg. Right from the get-go, I already had 40 people in the visiting room. My coach was one of the first people that visited me after my parents. She came in, and I remember asking, “Am I still on the team?” jokingly, and she started crying. I had a good sense of humor about it.
After four or five days in Boston Medical Center, I was transferred to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, where I stayed for a week before being discharged.
Me and Kelly both said at the beginning, we’re gonna do everything we can to get back on the field. I was on crutches. The crutches were something to get used to. I remember my first fall — it was the same day I got home. I was going to the movies with my friends, and I tripped, because I was wearing a sandal. I remember thinking, Oh, my God, I thought my leg was going to catch me and it didn’t.
I remember just thinking I would go to every practice, every game. I was wishing that I could have been out there with my team. I was thinking, I’m gonna do everything I can to get back out on the field. I got my running prosthesis this April. I could walk maybe a quarter mile and I’d be out of breath and dying. They said the same thing when they gave me my “everyday” leg — “It’s just going to click. You just have to do it.” I thought, OK, now I really want to do this — prove to people that I can do this. Everyone said, “If someone were to do it, it would be you.”
We get workout packets every summer. One day, (my trainer) said “I want to time you and see how long it takes you to get 100 yards.” I did it in 18 seconds. Before the accident, I was doing it at 15 or 16 seconds. That’s when I realized I wouldn’t be as far behind everyone if I was doing sprints with the team. I met with the coaches and I said, “I don’t want you to hold back on me. I will be doing all the fitness tests.” I was doing everything everyone else was doing. There was not one thing I couldn’t do. I started benching, I did the back squatting, I wasn’t far behind people. I was right up there with everybody. I didn’t want the coaches to be worrying about me when they could worry about getting the team better and everything. I’ve been doing all the running, 6 a.m. weight lifts three times a week, and lacrosse practice every day for two hours. My goal hopefully is to step back onto the field (in a game) by spring.
I loved going on vacations, and hanging out with my friends at the beach. That was one of my favorite things to do. I remember thinking to myself, Wow, this leg isn’t waterproof. I don’t want to bring my crutches to the beach. Nobody really thinks about the cost of prosthetics, but they’re so expensive. I remember the prosthetic company telling me about Boston Marathon bombing survivor Heather Abbott and her foundation, and how she donates prosthetics to people who can’t afford them. Insurance doesn’t pay for the “pretty” leg or the waterproof leg. Heather said that she would donate a waterproof leg to me. She was so nice; she said she wanted to help right away.
I got a water prosthetic in August and I went to Myrtle Beach with two of my friends and my mom. I went on a catamaran, and I remember just lying in the pool, lying on the float with both my friends. I was able to do everything I was capable of doing before my accident. I didn’t even think twice about the things I wouldn’t be able to do. I just have a really good sense of humor about it. For Halloween last year, Kelly and I were Forrest Gump and Lieutenant Dan, and we won best costume.
After my accident, seeing what Heather does, I’m thinking of starting a foundation in my own name. I have a passion for it. As bad as it sounds, it actually made me know what I want to do with my future, which is helping other amputees.