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Madysen Acey, Aided by a Service Dog and a Famous Surfer’s Camp, Perseveres after Double Amputation

April 25, 2010, is the date tattooed on the remainder of the University of Mississippi student Madysen Acey’s right arm. It’s a somber souvenir of the day she was electrocuted, a day that changed her life forever.

University of Mississippi junior Madysen Acey spends time with Radar, her faithful chocolate Labrador retriever that helps her pick up things and provides comfort. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

On that date nearly 10 years ago, Acey was in her hometown of Tunica, playing out in the Delta fields on a cotton picker, a normal pastime for 10-year-olds in the area. Her rubber cowboy boot got stuck on top of the cotton picker, and she tripped, but in an attempt to break her fall, she instinctively grabbed a power line that was still hanging low after a storm a couple of days before.

Instantly, 10,000 volts shot through her body. She was rushed to Memphis Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital and later that day most of her right arm was amputated. The next day, Acey was flown to the Burn Center at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center where she stayed for a month-and-a-half. She was able to keep her left hand for two weeks, but ultimately, it also had to be amputated.

When the six-week ordeal ended and she came back home, she had to learn to live as a double amputee.

Acey, 20, is a junior general business major, living the mostly typical and active life of a college student. Her struggles have given her a valuable perspective on life.

“For someone overcoming an obstacle, my advice would be to help them understand that things could be worse,” Acey said. “Be grateful for what you do have left in life, not what you have lost.”

But this perspective didn’t come to her quickly after accident. It took years of learning and perseverance to get there.

“I was on so many different medications that I never really had the chance to feel many emotions,” Acey said. “I just accepted what happened and started trying to figure everything out.

“I wasn’t going to sit around wasting my time crying about it when I could start to figure everything out and get back to normal.”

Obstacles Abound                                                                                                                                        

The setbacks didn’t stop at the loss of both hands. The powerful jolt left her body very weak. She had a hairline fracture on her hip. She was so weakened that just lying on her bed caused her femur to break. She was left wheelchair bound for six more weeks. 

Though she had plenty of struggles, Acey had a strong support system. Many students from her school came to visit in the hospital, and her brother and mom were there for her every step of the way.

Her mom, Bethanne Graves, learned to get up extra early for work so she could have time to get her daughter ready for school each day. But she thinks more about her daughter’s strength and courage than anything else from those days.

She remembers that before the accident, her daughter was a typical fun-loving 10-year-old. She hung out with her friends and loved taking silly pictures, and spent her weekends shopping and spending time with family. The weeks and months that followed her accident, she was not much different except for having new physical limitations.

She still wanted to be surrounded by friends and family members and took lots of her trademark funny pictures.

“Madysen also loved to go,” her mom said. “Go, go, go! Wherever she could all the time. She didn’t let what had happened to her get her down. There was no time for pity parties or ‘woe is me.’ She rocked on with confidence and determination.”

Pushing Forward 

Her daughter’s resilience is inspiring, Graves said.

“It has amazed me from day one,” she said. “Madysen is the perfect example that you can do anything when you set your mind to it.” 

The whole community supported her during her struggles. Players on the football team at her school, Tunica Academy, would carry her upstairs when she needed to get to class while she was wheelchair bound.

Other friends helped her with her writing when she struggled because she didn’t have hands. When she couldn’t get downstairs to the cafeteria, students would eat lunch with her in the classroom. She also found strong support from her teachers.

Teen years are hard for many, though, but they seemed a little harder for Acey, at first. Not having hands made her insecure, she said. But she found a boyfriend in her freshman year, which helped her feel more like a typical teen.

“It was a really big turning point for my self-confidence,” Acey said. “It made me feel better knowing that someone is going to like me for me.”

In Walks Radar 

Going to college alone also seemed daunting to Acey. Her support network would be gone.

But a four-legged friend made the transition easier. Just before coming to Ole Miss, she got a service dog, a chocolate Labrador retriever named Radar.

Radar lived with Acey during her freshman year, and stays at her condo sometimes. He helps her pick things up, but he is mostly there for comfort. They’ve had five wonderful years together, she said.

“It is nice to have Radar and to not feel alone on campus,” Acey said. “When I first got to Ole Miss, it was nice to have someone familiar to me and with me throughout college. It’s like having a friend with me all the time.”

Everyone who has come in contact with Radar loves him.

“Radar is like an old man; he likes to play outside with sticks, but not for too long,” Acey said.”He would much rather nap and cuddle. Radar is like my son; he always makes me feel comfortable and at home no matter where I am.”

Having Radar around has eased her transition into college life. She’s blossomed. The challenge of finding her way has motivated her, she said.

As a result, adapting to Ole Miss’ classrooms has been much easier than Acey thought.

As a freshman, Acey would always talk to the professors about her situation, but as a junior, she shuns extra help in the classrooms. She has never used a note-taker or sought any other extra help.

“Ole Miss has taught me that I can be just as independent as any other person if I try hard enough,” she said. 

Acey’s close friend, Maddy Houghton, an Ole Miss junior who is on the soccer team, is in awe of her friend’s perseverance in college, and in life.

“She is inspiring to everyone around her and continues to tackle challenges each and every day,” Houghton said. “The quote, ‘She may be little, but she is fierce,’ reminds me of her simply because I have never witnessed her show her weaknesses.”

Acey plans to pursue an online bachelor’s degree in interior design after college and help people design their dream homes. After she graduates, Acey wants to travel and get a job at Summer House Interior Design in Oxford.

Solace and Surfing 

Throughout her life as an amputee, Acey has found solace each year at surfer Bethany Hamilton’s Beautifully Flawed retreat in California for amputees ages 14 to 26. Hamilton, who gained notoriety when she lost her arm in a shark attack and overcame that obstacle, has inspired many others.

Acey first went when she was 13 and has been going for six years. Each day involves Bible study, working out with Hamilton’s personal trainer and hearing campers tell their own personal stories. There’s also photoshoots, and makeup artists and hairstylists from Los Angeles provide makeovers for the campers. Everyone gets to surf, too. 

She’s met many friends there and goes back each fall. This year is the first one she’ll miss so she can handle schoolwork.

The retreats are useful to keep her mind right while she lives as a double amputee.

“One girl there was born with a missing arm and later in her life, her leg got amputated,” Acey said. “I just couldn’t imagine having adjusted to only having one arm then turning around and losing another limb.

“I just look at those people and think I could have it a lot worse.”

By Madison Garvey

Adam Brown
Adam Brown
Sports Editor

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