On the bright summer morning of June 13, Henry Hey and his longtime girlfriend Donna Becker set out from his home in North Merrick to the hospital for a procedure that would help improve circulation in a toe on his left foot.
When they walked into the hospital, Becker, 53, said the doctors told her the “simple” procedure should last no more than 3 hours. But once Hey, 58, was under the knife, complications arose. The procedure turned into a three-day ordeal, with five surgeries in total. Hey was in critical condition and was on life support. On June 22, he finally roused. When he opened his eyes, he first saw Becker, who, he said “is the love of my life.” But when he looked down, both of his legs were missing. They were amputated above the knees.
Becker said they are both adventure seekers. With years worth of life savings stowed away, they finally purchased a camper to tour the nation, visit landmarks and explore the natural beauty their eyes were not yet familiar with.
“It wasn’t anything luxurious,” Becker laughed. “But it was gorgeous to us. It was furnished, it was so beautifully put together and it was going to be our home while we traveled.”
Hey sold his motorcycle. He later sold his camper.
“I need to pay my medical bills,” Hey said. “I’ve been prescribed a lot of medication and some of it costs $300 each and I just can’t afford that so I had to sell some of my prized possessions to be able to afford my medicine.”
Hey said when his family doctor retired, a new one took his place. He suggested Hey receive an aortobifemoral bypass, a surgery that is used to bypass diseased large blood vessels in the abdomen and groin to improve blood flow to the leg. When Hey was under the knife and complications became severe, Becker said she had no say in the matter.
“I practically watched his legs get taken off,” Becker said. “What do you do? When you see someone you love and you have no power to stop it? It was a nightmare.”
When Hey woke up to find both of his legs amputated above the knee, he was shocked. Confused and dazed from his stupor, he asked Becker details of the surgery. Once Becker filled him in, Hey decided he had two choices: to become depressed and hopeless or to fight.
So he fought for his life.
“He’s completely amazed every single person that’s come across him in the hospital and at physical training,” Becker said. “He puts all of his strength into physical training. Sometimes his stumps are bleeding out and he’s in so much pain but he still participates as much as he can.”
“There are two things keeping me alive,” Hey said. “Donna’s love and God’s will.”
Hey said although he is positive 95 percent of the time, he has doubts and fears that he will never walk again.
“The worst part about this are the phantom pains,” he said, rubbing his left thigh. “I didn’t think that was real, when you read about it happening to soldiers who loose limbs in war. It’s painfully real. Right now, I can feel my legs. I feel an itch on my ankle. I feel like my legs are dangling over the wheelchair. But the worst part is that I have an itch that I can’t scratch. And that’s constantly.”
When Ron Steiger heard about Hey’s condition, he immediately called Becker. He suggested she set up a Go Fund Me page in August, where donations can be made directly to Hey. Still in shock, Becker said she could not find the strength to sit down and write out what happened to her beau. But once the page was up and running, donations poured in. With over $18,000 in donations, Becker and Hey said they are grateful for the help.
Just this past weekend, a fundraiser was held for Henry at Jugs and Strokers in Merrick, where, Becker said Monday, an additional $9,000 was raised.
“I need special prosthetics that bend at the knees and ankles,” Hey said. “Each leg is valued at $75,000 and that’s a lot of money. But I have faith. The amount of support that has been given to me by neighbors, friends and even strangers is overwhelming and I’m grateful for it.”
Hey’s son, Henry Jr., 21, even found a job on the Nautical Mile and walks to work every day to help raise funds for his father. While Hey was in the hospital, neighbors used their professional carpentry skills and expanded all of Hey’s doorways to make each room wheelchair accessible. They renovated his bathroom completely and set up the shower head directly above the tub so Hey can sit in a chair below to bathe. In his bedroom, a friend securely drilled a metal hoop in the ceiling with a rope attached. The rope, which dangles above Hey’s bed, helps Hey pull himself up to sit when he wakes up.
The Long Island Trading Post donated an electrical wheelchair to Hey. His friends built a porch attached to the side of his home for easy access into Becker’s van. But Hey is still in need of a handicapped van, a larger wheelchair and funds to help cover costly medical bills.
“Because they’re both a part of the community, the JFK Alumni Association is helping in every way we can,” Steiger said. He said members from the surrounding areas like East Meadow, Seaford and Wantagh have also reached out to Hey. “It’s a community coming together to help a man get himself back on track.”
Hey and Becker believe their lives will, in fact, get back on track.
“I know I will walk again,” Hey said. “I have faith in God that I will walk again. It may take a while, but I will walk again.”
For more information on Henry Hey’s condition or to contribute, visit www.GoFundMe.com/2jry4euc