‘So blessed to be here’: Middleton woman makes remarkable recovery after ATV crash
MIDDLETON, Wis. — All-terrain vehicle and utility-terrain vehicle riding is a growing sport in Wisconsin. A local woman is sharing her story and a warning since rebuilding her life after a serious accident in August 2010.
Natalie Staples was a star basketball player at Middleton High School with dreams of playing in college. She was Middleton’s second-leading scorer at 8.3 points per game. She was a 15-year-old sophomore when she and a group of six friends went for a ride on her family’s Polaris Ranger.
“We were just driving down the road and we hit a patch of pea gravel and the Ranger flipped onto its left side,” Staples said.
Staples was driving and she was wearing a seatbelt.
“When it flipped, everyone had fallen off except I had fallen down with it and my left arm was crushed under the roll bar,” Staples said. “I was screaming, ‘my arm’s off!’ There was a big hole where my arm used to be. I had to pick my arm up off the ground and I tucked it into my stomach.”
The Ranger landed on staples and nearly severed her arm. Initially, doctors told the Staples family that there was a 5 percent chance of saving her arm. Doctors couldn’t promise that Staples would survive.
Staples was an experienced driver on the Ranger. In Wisconsin, all riders who were born after Jan. 1, 1988 and who are least 12 years old are required to complete an approved ATV Safety Course and carry the Wisconsin ATV Safety Certificate with them while riding on public lands.
Classes can be taken online or in person. More information is available at dnr.wi.gov/topic/atv/.
Pete McCormick is a conservation warden with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
“These vehicles are fun but they’re not deemed slow moving vehicles, or farm vehicles for that matter. They are capable of high speeds. At 50 miles per hour, or even 25 miles per hour, that’s enough to cause a severe accident,” McCormick said. “What happens is, when you hit pea gravel, the surface moves underneath you and then all of a sudden you get the weight of the vehicle going and steering going in the opposite direction. It’s very easy for that unit to tip over.”
After the accident, one of Staples’ friends ran a quarter mile to her parent’s house to get help.
“My dad had taken his two hands and grabbed around my arm and stopped the bleeding. My dad basically saved my life,” Staples said. “I said to my dad, ‘I’m never going to play basketball again and he said, you need to stay alive Natalie.'”
Staples was taken by medical helicopter to UW Hospital where a 15-hour surgery was performed that first night. One of the doctors on Staples’ team was UW Health plastic surgeon Dr. Michael Bentz.
“Natalie had an injury that frequently would lead to amputation of the arm. She basically cut all the structures in the arm except for some skin in the back and one of the three main nerves,” Bentz said. “This is a major limb injury that usually will lead to significant dysfunction or even an amputation.”
“They lost me during that first surgery. They had to shock me and bring me back and they came out to my parents and said, ‘She’s not going to make it if we try to repair this arm so we feel comfortable snipping off what’s left and leaving her with a nub,'” Staples said. “My mom and dad literally ripped up the paperwork and said, ‘She is 15, you need to give her a chance.'”
Natalie’s been through 35 reconstructive surgeries over eight years. She was in the hospital for 28 days. The first 10 days, she was in a medically induced coma.
“The average person might not make it through. She is not the average person. Drive, spirit, focus, intensity and resolve, the things that make someone a successful athlete make them a successful patient,” Bentz said.
There is more possible surgery in Staples’ future.
“This is not a one-stage thing,” Bentz said. “There will be multiple stages. In this complicated of an injury, there are going to be things that pop up along the way that are going to be either undesirable or unanticipated.”
Natalie did eventually play basketball again.
“When the accident happened, I was going into my sophomore year of high school. The accident happened in August and I was playing again that following January,” Staples said. “It was a lot of work. I had to relearn how to play a game I’d played since I was 3 years old with one hand. I had a lot of success in high school, which led me to play college basketball at UW Platteville.”
When Staples was a sophomore in college, she suffered another setback; she contracted a staph infection in her arm, landing her back in the hospital for another month. Staples says her arm continues to improve. She has more function in her left hand and her fingers than doctors anticipated.
“I named my arm Lucy. Everyone knows her as Lucy and the two of us are on this journey together,” Staples said. “The nerves are regenerating in my hand can move and do things on their own.”
Today, Staples is 23 years old. When her remarkable journey finally ends, she wants to be a motivational speaker. She would like to write a book, as well.
“The message I want to share is, when one door closes, another one opens,” Staples said. “Never give up on yourself because you can truly amaze yourself with what you can do if you persevere through hard times.”
Staples is working full-time as a nanny for two active little boys and looking forward to the future.
“I am so fortunate to so blessed to be here. I’m so happy to be able to say good morning to my mom and dad again and to play basketball with my sisters and to be a nanny for these two amazing boys and these families,” Staples said. “I’m so fortunate that this is my life.”
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