Meet Sam Baker

December 11, 2013

Photo by: Chrislyn Lawrence

Photo by: Chrislyn Lawrence

Meet Sam Baker

This man inspired me to keep going after my wreck. At the age of 31 he survived a Peruvian terrorist bombing that resulted damages to his left hand and brain. He plays left-handed guitar, sings with a rhythm that keeps his mind moving through his writing, and it’s my dream to open for him one day. His album “Say Grace” is Rolling Stone’s 5th best Country Album of the Year

life update!

June 11, 2013

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Hello Everyone! I’m still alive and well! I graduated from Belmont this past December and I’m currently working full time for a concert series in Nashville. I love my job, and I’m actively working on new songs and left-handed guitar. I have high hopes for lots of exciting music in the future. Stay tuned!

a year ago today.

September 17, 2010

can i tell you a story?

it’s a pretty good story.

a year ago today, i was in a car accident that resulted in the loss of two fingers on my left hand. (this of course is not the good part of the story, but all good stories must have some sort of conflict.) a year ago today, i was running late and got in my van and crossed a busy street. a year ago today, i didn’t see him coming. a year ago today i found myself being carried out of a broken car window. a year ago today i was waiting for an ambulance on a curb shouting out to God.

this was thursday, september 17th, 2009 around 6pm, around 15th and wedgewood.

yesterday, thursday around 2:30, i was dancing in my room trying to loosen up after i accidentally locked myself out of my apartment while taking out the trash. me, being the athletic champion that i am, fell on my left arm, spraining my elbow. i had to go to class, but about an hour later, i could no longer straighten my arm or bend it very far due to swelling. my pain level was pretty high, and everything was feeling pretty ironic. i was worried that i had fractured something, because i’ve never broken a bone, and around 6:00, i found myself contemplating the E.R.

now you can imagine why this might be a problem for me. (by the way, it is extremely ridiculous that this happened to me, and it’s okay to laugh!) but at the time, it wasn’t feeling very funny. amazingly enough, someone from belmont’s athletic training center was available to check out my arm. after finding the center, there just so happened to be a doctor from vanderbilt hospital in the office at belmont. this doctor also happened to know my wonderful surgeon. after examining my arm, he confirmed that i had only sprained it, and now i’m on ice and anti-inflamitories.

so the moral of this story?

well, me being me, i fell on my left arm on the eve of my wreck anniversary. God took the opportunity to remind me, “hey, remember how you are weak and I am strong?” then i was able to avoid the E.R. “hey kristen? remember how I provide for you?”

after twelve months, it can be really easy to forget what it is like to be physically in need, but that was a good portion of my year. so many of my loved ones encouraged me to look on this day with celebration. it is good to remember how far i’ve come.

i’ve waited for this day all year, and it has been quite a year. it has been amazing to see how the events of this past year are lining up in different ways this week. i can say that i am relieved, and extremely thankful. i am overwhelmed by the support, love, and prayers that have been showered in my direction. you all mean so much to me, and even if we do not know each other, thank you for the honor of having you read my story. stick around! i have a feeling that God is only getting warmed up.

i’m officially done with physical therapy today! i am thrilled with the progress i’ve made. my hand has improved tenfold since i started back at the end of october. i mastered the dreaded black clothespins, the heaviest weight. and i am especially proud to say i met my grip strength goal today! my initial grip strength in my left hand was a four, while my right hand was around a sixty. my therapist said our goal would be twenty. i was thrilled the day i met the strength of ten, but today, my grip strength was twenty-four. my left hand is at least one-third the power of my right, and that is a huge comfort. when i think back to where i was, this is the sweetest of victories. of course, my therapy does not really end. everyday is a new challenge for my hand, and my hand is meeting it. a good friend asked me the other day what my biggest limitation is at this point (aside from guitar and piano). i answered my grip strength, and even that isn’t so bad anymore.

the dreaded black clothespins

of course, this is not the entire picture of the challenges ahead. i leave for school on the tenth and i have no idea what God has in store for me this year. i do know that i’m pretty much open to anything now. my life is God’s. that’s one thing i’ve definitely taken away from all of this. pray for me with this semester coming up. i’m a little anxious about it still, but i’m also eager for a change of pace. there are a lot of unknowns ahead, but i do know that God is my life now. happy 2010 everyone!

three months.

December 18, 2009

my accident happened three months ago yesterday. obviously since the last entry is entitled “two months,” i haven’t written in a while. somehow i’ve been relatively busy. i was fortunate enough to still have the opportunity to sing in “christmas at belmont,” so i journeyed down to nashville to sing the music i had been learning from home with my peers. it’s a massive event, if you’ve never experienced it. i highly suggest you turn your TVs to PBS on the evening of the 23rd (check your local listings for the time). i’ve included a little sampler HERE — my group, session, singing with our wonderful host, trisha yearwood! 🙂

this past month has been a little bit more directed toward sliding into normalcy. i’m now typing with two hands and learning how to do it better. allowing myself to go out in public without any sort of glove on, unless i’m cold. haha! gripping “paper thin” picks and building up some strength strumming my left-handed guitar. i french-braided my hair for the first time a couple of days ago! and other exciting victories that allow my left hand some independence.

i recently purchased rob bell’s new book “drops like stars.” i highly recommend picking it up. it’s about suffering and creativity — something extremely relevant in my life right now. i’ve been painting a lot. it’s very calming and relaxing for me and it helps me creatively express myself in a time where guitar cannot as easily fill that need. you may have noticed the new banner above, it’s one of my watercolor paintings. it’s good to still feel like an artist. God is healing me with the endless possibilities in creativity.

two months.

November 20, 2009

two days ago marked two months since the day of my accident. people have asked me if the time has flown by. in a way it has, but it also seems like that day was so long ago. isn’t that how it always is? time does seem to move a lot faster when life isn’t all consumed the way mine used to be. i feel like a kid on summer vacation. yet so much has happened in the past two months, i feel like that day was a year ago. i guess it is good to report that my days are not dragging along. but the 17th of the month always seems a little longer.

the past month has thankfully been a little quieter. more physical therapy, no surgery. it’s strange looking back on the challenges from the past two months. the day of my wreck. losing one finger. the week at the hospital. living with my hand attached to my hip. losing another finger. going home to heal. getting acquainted with a new hand. teaching that new hand old tricks…and those are only physical challenges. there have been several mornings i have woke up to look at my hand, only to realize that my fingers are not coming back, and the challenges are not going away. when i dream, i have two whole, healthy hands. i guess there’s a part of me that is under the impression that my body is just going through a phase, like a fractured wrist, and i will heal and go back to the way things were.

i’m slowly learning to see my hand as my hand. i know one day it will feel natural and all, but i also know i’ll look back on this moment and be glad i left it behind. the past two months have been a sequence of events i never want to live again. i never want to go back to the days i had my flap. i never want to go back to the day i saw my hand in the mirror for the first time. i’m sure i will not want to go back to this moment, but i’ve learned we must live in the difficult moments we are in until we can look back and see how far we’ve come.

playing left-handed.

November 8, 2009

i’ve really been struggling with the loss of my music lately. now that i’m over the largest part of my immediate health struggle, i ache to do things i cannot.

my right hand doesn’t understand. i was listening to a new song by jason reeves with a beautiful guitar picking line. all i wanted to do at that moment was grab my guitar and pick the strings. (jason has this effect…check him out if you’re unfamiliar.) i miss playing my music. i took it for granted before all of this happened. it’s strange. i was never a singer-songwriter who constantly lived their instrument. it was my passion but it wasn’t ever something that i couldn’t go a while without. i could always go to it, and it would still be there. i rarely picked up my guitar just to play it. now it’s all i want to do.

for those of you who do not know, a wonderful friend blessed me with a left-handed guitar three days after my accident, while i was in the hospital. it has given me a lot of hope for my playing, but it frustrates me to know i will have to start over again after seven or so years of playing right-handed. the callouses that had formed on the fingertips of my left hand have softened to new skin. my right hand struggles to remember the form of the simplest chords. i wonder if i will get the fast-twitch muscle memory back in my left hand so i can pick the strings the way i used to.

i’ve been reading about other guitarists who suffer from hand disabilities and i came across an article on a guitarist with focal dystonia. apparently his ring and little finger are frozen, curled inward, without function. he switched to left-handed guitar, which is apparently about as easy as, ‘trying to breathe through your feet.’ i think this is hilarious, haha! but i am encouraged from the article. the man says you have to be willing to sound awful. this is huge for me, because i often get frustrated when i’m not picking up a skill immediately. (for my fellow music majors – case in point: ear training.) but i think this is good advice, especially for me. one thing that assures me is my constant desire to play now. i think it will get the guitar in my hands until it works. i hope it does…please pray for my patience.

moving forward.

November 5, 2009

i am happy to report i am healing very well. much has changed since my last post. i’m sorry it has been so long…see now how much i procrastinated as a student?

my last post (three weeks ago) had me in a soft cast the week after my second amputation. the soft cast served to keep my hand immobilized to protect my new skin graft. i went back down to vanderbilt on october 20th for my post op. they removed the cast, revealing my new hand to me for the first time. the medical technician told me i handled the situation better than ninety percent of his patients. this may be true, but after dealing with a groin flap every night for two and a half weeks, i feel like i’ve seen it all. and there is a lot of truth there. i had been preparing for that day for a long time. in all honesty, the most prominent emotion i was feeling at that moment was relief. my skin graft looked healthy. i was done with surgery for a while. i made the right decision for stage #6. i could move on.

one particular new struggle of the day was the ‘go go go’ my surgeon kept speaking of. translation: physical therapy. my middle and ring finger had essentially been immobilized for a month. they were stuck in a slightly bent curve. i could neither extend nor touch my thumb to my finger tips. my surgeon prescribed six weeks of PT, three times a week. fortunately i have been able to carry out the doctor’s orders here in columbus.

two weeks later i am not only touching my fingertips with my thumb but i am also gripping things, such as: a glass of water, my contact case, my hair (to tie it back), etc. this has been one of my greatest victories. it has been a challenge to be so completely one-handed. i’ve gotten extremely creative. i use the crook of my left elbow to grip bottles while my right hand twists off the cap. if that doesn’t work, i’ll try squeezing it between my knees or feet. haha! i have become much more independent, which is particularly exciting for me. although, the forced dependance i have endured this past month and a half has probably been a once in a lifetime experience.

i spent the entire past week in nashville as my roommate’s guest so i could sing with session and chorale in their fall concerts. (if you are not belmont savvy, session is an all women’s a cappella group that arranges all of their own music…we also happen to be amazing. chorale is a classical mixed ensemble. also amazing.) both groups have been so generous to keep me involved and it was so wonderful to be on stage again making music. it was a little strange being back at first. i had been separated from the campus for so long, i felt like a high school senior on a college visit. however, everyone was so welcoming and i am so blessed to be a part of such a wonderful place.

i still have a long way to go. the grip i have is often too weak. i still cannot make a fist. i still cannot straighten my fingers. but physical therapy has been going extremely well and i am eager to see how i will progress. in addition to soreness in my stiff fingers, i have been struggling from phantom pains (pain in my amputated fingers despite their absence.) it’s a very strange sensation, but overall my pain has been very tollerable. the spreading incision line i complained of in my last post is almost completely healed. all of my stitches have been removed and all the scabbing is gone. i still have some bandaging, but i have come so far. each new menial task i am able to complete on my own is a huge victory.

again, i am so grateful for the continual prayers.

it’s okay.

October 15, 2009

this morning i woke up to get the dressing changed on my graft site (which happens to be right underneath my flap incision…also in need of gauze and tape). my incision line is splitting. it’s not bleeding, but scar tissue is visible. common sense told my parents and i splitting incision lines weren’t good, so we took a few photos and sent them to my surgeon. i laid in bed all day waiting to hear back from him, worried i would split in two. i did absolutely nothing all day. well, i watched cory and topanga get married on youtube, but i did nothing. turns out, when someone gets this much of a nip and tuck, splitting incision lines are normal…a part of the healing process.

crazy isn’t it? somehow, the exact opposite of what i thought was healing for my body…is okay.

two days from now marks one month since the accident. i’m not really sure where i am. some days i am great. some days i am not. some days i’m going to wake up feeling pulled together. some days i’m going to feel ripped apart. i’ve come to learn that nothing in this healing process is certain. i went through a groin flap procedure and all i have to show for it is a splitting scar on my body. however, because the flap failed, i may gain more function in my hand. i have no idea how splitting equals healing. we’ll see.

sometimes the exact opposite of what we think we need…is okay.

six stages.

October 11, 2009

my next entry was going to be an account of my week at the hospital after the accident. i was at the hospital for an exact week (september 17th-24th) and i may or may not still post some sort of an account; however, i have had six surgeries since the accident and far too much has changed within the past two. therefore, the priority now lies in updating this blog fully so that my current situation can be known. i have dubbed each surgery as a “stage” in this healing process. for example, surgery #1 was “stage #1,” and so forth. to catch you all up to speed on what has happened to me within the past three weeks, i will give my account based off of each stage…

stage #1 – my first surgery after i made it to the ER the night of the accident (september 17th). after a CAT scan, some x-rays, and a phone call to my parents i was put under for an irrigational procedure and an amputation. my little finger was beyond saving. it was so mangled it wasn’t even a finger anymore. that night he amputated my little finger and spent most of six hours cleaning my hand of any debris from the accident. also, he did a minor skin graft with the original skin from the back of my hand. the skin had been pushed back. he reset the skin in hopes that it would save itself.

stage #2 – my second morning at the hospital (september 19th). the skin from the back of my hand was successfully grafted. my surgeon re-irrigated my hand, clearing out the last of the debris, and observed my index finger to determine a course of action to try and save it. my index finger had been stripped of all skin and tissue down to the bone below my finger tip. my finger tip and finger nail remained intact, but was only being fed by one artery. a simple skin graft would not create a finger after all the tissue had been lost…the skin would have nothing to attach to. this surgery helped determine stage #3.

stage #3 – my third morning at the hospital (september 20th). my surgeon performed a “groin flap” procedure to try and save my index finger. basically, he cut and peeled back a long flap of skin and fatty tissue from my hip above my left leg and laid it over and around my index finger. the “flap” remained attached to my body at one end while my index finger pointed into the other. yes, it is a very strange procedure. and yes, my hand was attached to my body through a tube of skin. the idea, was for the tissue and skin to grow around my finger, forming (and later to become) my new finger. because the flap was attached to my body through this process, it remained alive. and i was to remain uncomfortable for two and a half weeks until the flap could be detached and shaped. (the flap would be swollen and shapeless. my finger would endure more surgery before it would look anything like a finger again.) in addition to forming the flap on my finger, my surgeon also performed a nerve and tendon transplant. because my little finger had been lost, he was able to take from that area of my hand to give to my index finger. i left the hospital on september 24th, headed home to indiana, to wait out the two and a half weeks that had to happen before stage #4. it was uncomfortable to have my hand tied down to my side, but i managed to find ways to arrange pillows around me to fit a level of comfort. at night, my mom would help me get through a shower and my dad would redress my hand. redressing was an arduous process. the seepage from the tissue in the flap gave off a horrible smell and the flap got weaker every night. however, my dad did a phenomenal job with my bandages and i don’t know what i would have done without my wonderful parents in all of this.

stage #4 – my separation, out-patient at the surgery center (october 7th). after two and a half weeks i was busting down the doors of the surgery center, eager to get my hand separated from my side. in all honesty, the flap wasn’t going to remain attached to my body for much longer. the point of connection to my body grew weaker everyday. i have never been more excited to go under the knife. the separation went really well. my surgeon cut away all the excess tissue and sewed up my side where the flap had been. he was pleased to see “back flow” in my finger, meaning my hand was now feeding the flap with blood rather than my side. later, i would undergo two procedures to take away extra tissue and make the flap look more like an index finger. he did find that some of the flap, acting as a skin graft for the back of my hand, did not survive. also, my index finger had a dislocated joint due to tendon loss. he scraped away the dead skin on the back of my hand and suggested we come back in two days for a skin graft and a pin to be put in my finger for the joint.

stage #5 – the graft and pin at vanderbilt med. (october 9th). i went under for a skin graft on top of my hand and a pin for my dislocated joint. at this point, i was eager to be done with surgery for a while. i have plenty of IV scars on the top of my hand to prove it. about thirty minutes into the surgery, my surgeon left the OR to talk to my parents in the waiting room. the flap we had nursed for two and a half weeks was not going to make it. it didn’t have enough blood supply to keep it alive. he did not find any infection in the flap, but it was clear the procedure had been unsuccessful. he removed the flap and i awoke from surgery finding myself back where i started on september 17th. it was devastating. we had been so hopeful and we had worked so hard, with only a long scar (stretching around the side of my body) to show for it. i had two options…both of them sucked. option #1: i could try another flap, except this time take it from my waist. there was a chance this flap would fail as well, even during the shaping procedures (which could be up to six months in the making). option #2: i could have my index finger amputated, leaving my left hand with a thumb, a middle, and a ring finger. i had the 9th and the 10th to deliberate over my options. i chose option #2 – amputation. option #1 was a gamble without a very decent prize. had that flap been successful, i would gain an index finger, but its only function would be to take up space on my hand. the only benefit was appearance. i would have little to no function in the finger (due to the dislocated joint). additionally, my other two fingers (middle and ring) would have to wait on the flap procedure’s success before they could start rehabilitation. the longer the wait before movement is encouraged the more movement is lost. essentially, option #1 gave me an index finger, but those three fingers would have limited function. option #2 (amputation) gave me function. once my index finger would be out of the way, i would be able to start rehabilitating my fingers, improving the chances of complete function. it made sense and i had a lot of peace about it. i didn’t want to lose my index finger, but in reality, i lost my finger on september 17th. i don’t think i gave up on my finger, we tried really hard with the first flap. i’ve come to accept it all now. with my index finger gone, i can move forward and move on with my life. and maybe, i’ll grip a guitar pick again. i chose function over appearance and this morning, i moved on to stage #6.

stage #6 – amputation, my third morning at vanderbilt (today, october 11th). i don’t have an index finger anymore. my parents and i deliberated all day yesterday at the hospital. i’ve never been so sure of anything in my whole life. i’m ready to move on. my surgeon amputated my index finger and took a skin graft from my thigh for the top of my hand. i’m done with the OR for a while. he sent me home. i’ll go back to the hand clinic on the 20th for a post op check, but for now…all i have to do is heal.

thank you all for your continual prayers. i know this post has been a long time coming. i get behind and one handed typing is a slow process. i intend to keep my posts up to date from now on so you all can follow my progress better. most importantly, i apologize. such news should not be discovered for the first time from a blog; however, this is a much easier way for me to communicate this particular story and there was a lot to say. again, thank you for your prayers. more to come soon!