COCHRAN -- Brian White now walks the walk, even if it is with a slight limp.
His steps are much different than the ones he took growing up in Laurens County, where his father worked for the sheriff’s department and his mother rose each day to make those famous cathead biscuits at JoJo’s in Dublin.
After graduating from West Laurens High in 1999, he walked on the wild side. He ran with the wrong crowd. He regrets the decisions he made but takes full responsibility. He has nobody to blame but himself.
Brian settled down after he got married. He credits his wife, Alicia. She became his rock. He started going to church. He became a daddy. He quit bouncing from job to job.
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He was hired at a chicken processing plant in East Dublin, a rendering operation where leftover chicken parts are used to make meal for dog food.
“I started out at the bottom of the barrel, pushing a water hose,’’ he said. “But I had made up my mind I wanted a better life for my son. So I worked hard and got promotions.’’
He was supposed to be off on April 14, 2010. But a foreman had gotten married, and Brian was covering his shift. He was on his lunch break when he was called to return to the plant to take care of a problem.
He had been back less than a minute when his boot got caught in an auger. It mangled his right leg, just above the knee.
It was the same knee he had used to bend down and propose to Alicia. It was the same knee he used to bounce Brody, his 2-year-old son.
Brian lost so much blood he was certain he was going to die. As he waited to be airlifted by helicopter to the then-Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon, he reached for his cell phone.
“I didn’t think I was going to make it, so I called my wife,’’ he said. “When she didn’t answer, I left a message for her and my son. I told them I loved them, and that they meant everything to me.’’
By the time Alicia got the message, she was already rushing to the hospital in Macon. She never listened to the voice mail. She didn’t know if she could handle it and had it deleted.
When she arrived at the Medical Center, she was told her husband had only about a 1-in-20 chance of survival.
But Brian was a fighter, and his family’s strong faith pulled him through seven surgeries in three days. He stayed in the hospital almost a month.
That summer, he was fitted for a prosthetic right leg by Steve Miller, of Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics. Miller had lost his leg to cancer when was 11 years old. As an amputee, he could relate to his patients.
“It was scary at first. I had never known anybody who had lost a leg, and I didn’t know what to expect,’’ Brian said. “It was a big motivating factor for me to be able to see someone who had been through the loss of a limb and was doing great things.’’
Miller not only helped Brian adapt, he inspired and encouraged him to pursue a college degree in the field and become a prosthetist.
Brian started classes at Middle Georgia State College in Cochran in the summer of 2013. Then he spent a year at MGC’s Dublin campus before returning to Cochran last semester. He is a sophomore majoring in biology, with plans to attend graduate school in prosthetics and orthotics.
On the Dublin campus, the young man who had never considered himself college material came full circle in another way. The school is located in the old Laurens Hospital in the building where Brian was born in 1981.
“I wish I knew which room,’’ he said, laughing.
He is now in the honors program and serves as a student government representative. He was one of 16 MGC students selected for the inaugural class of the President’s Torch Society, a leadership organization for scholars representing the college’s campuses in Cochran, Macon, Warner Robins, Dublin and Eastman.
The announcement was made Dec. 17. Two days later, Brian became a father again. Emelia Rae White -- they call her “Millie” -- will be 2 months old on Thursday.
Four days each week, Brian drives the 21 miles to Cochran from his home between Cadwell and Dexter on Highway 338.
He is no longer self-conscious about his artificial leg. The stares don’t sting. The questions no longer bother him. When the weather gets warmer, he will wear shorts almost every day.
He has developed a sense of humor about it. Two weeks ago in Eastman, he swiveled his leg around on its hinge to amuse and entertain youngsters in an after-school program.
And he loves to tell the story about how his leg fell off while deer hunting. As cars passed by on the highway, he hopped back to his truck with his rifle over his shoulder while carrying his leg in his other hand.
“The entire experience has had a positive impact,’’ he said. “If I could go back and change it, I wouldn’t. It has taught me there is much more than just living your life. It is about serving others.
“It took almost dying to teach me how to live.’’
Contact Gris at 744-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org.