Silver Medalist Amy Purdy's Spiritual Experience

This Paralympian had a near-death experience that gave her the strength and perseverance for snowboarding.

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Posted in , Jan 18, 2022

A snowboarder making a high jump in clear, blue sky; Getty Images

Amy Purdy’s life has always been about doing the impossible, be it adapting to the loss of her legs or winning the silver medal in snowboarding at the 2017 Paralympics. But, really, the fact that she’s alive is its own miracle. 

At 19 years old, Amy started to feel ill. As her symptoms got worse, she brushed it off as the flu. But, while taking an afternoon nap, she suddenly jolted awake. “Out of nowhere, I heard a voice say, ‘Amy, get up and look in the mirror,’” she said during an interview with Oprah on her show Super Soul Sunday. “I looked at my reflection in the mirror,” she says. “I saw that my nose, my chin and my cheeks were purple... And I knew I was dying.”

Amy had contracted a deadly strain of bacterial meningitis. Shortly after she was rushed to the hospital, her lungs and veins collapsed. Though she was put on life support, doctors estimated her chance of survival was less than 2%. Then her spleen ruptured. Amy had to be rushed into emergency surgery. “It felt as if I was hanging on by my fingertips, and every heartbeat, I was moving closer and closer to the edge,” she said. It was on the operating table that Amy slipped away. “I felt my last heartbeat,” Amy said. “It was so powerful. It took my breath away... my last breath.”

Amy had died. Next thing she knew, she was in a dark space. “And I saw a light,” she said. “Not the bright, typical light that you would visualize at the end of the tunnel... It was kind of a foggy, hazy green light. It was enough of a light to see that there were three silhouettes standing in front of me.”

Amy didn’t recognize any of those figures, but she knew they were making her an offer: she could go with them or she could stay. In that moment, Amy could only envision all the things she loved about being alive. “I love the smell of rain, and I love the sound of the ocean waves,” she said. “I thought, ‘There is no way I am ready to give up this stuff.’”

And with that, she woke up. Her body was still in crisis, but she was alive.

The recovery was long and hard. In addition to the loss of both her kidneys, the hearing in her left ear, and the removal of her spleen, the infection and septic shock caused by the meningitis meant that both her legs had to be amputated at the knee. When it seemed almost unbearable, Amy would reflect on her NDE and remember all the things that had inspired her to keep living. It gave her the strength to persevere.

Using prosthetic legs, Amy relearned how to walk. Within four months of her first post-surgery steps, she was back to her greatest passion—snowboarding. She entered her first snowboarding competition just a year after her amputation and near-death experience. And the rest, as they say, is history.

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