Sweatman is now attempting to harness the value in his own mobility, hoping his extraordinary journey across the state line will raise money for Limbs for Life, a charity that provides prostheses to amputees without the resources to obtain them.
“There’s a lot of people out there who can’t afford it, and prostheses are so vital to an amputee for their mobility and their independence,” says Sweatman, who kicks off his fundraising with a Sept. 5 launch party from 6-8 p.m. at 10th and Piedmont.
His walk from Midtown Atlanta to Birmingham, primarily via the Silver Comet and Chief Ladiga trails, is scheduled to take place Nov. 7-17.
In the fall of 2008, Sweatman was walking through Piedmont Park when he twisted his ankle and broke a bone in his foot. After wearing a cast for two months, instead of Sweatman reaching the finish line of his pain and discomfort, his foot became more inflamed with swelling and discoloration.
Sweatman was eventually diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, a short-circuiting of the nervous system.
“It started spreading up my leg, slowly at first but then it started intensifying,” Sweatman recalls. “The treatment options we explored seemed to make it worst, making the nerves more sensitive and irritated. The last option we had was to amputate the leg below the knee before it started spreading up the entire leg and quite possibly — probably — to other parts of my body.”
But his leg wasn’t the only loss Seatman faced, as he explores in his book about his experiences, “Amputated Yet Whole.”
“Even though my neurological condition and having my leg amputated were both very difficult and painful, the mental, emotional, and spiritual amputations I’ve experienced have been far worse,” Sweatman writes on his website, www.AmputatedYetWhole.com
Disowned for being gay
The injury to Sweatman’s leg compounded the pain he was already feeling, as he broke his foot just months after he was disowned by his family for being gay. Rather than coming out to his conservative parents in Forsyth County, Sweatman had tried to ease them into awareness by bringing his boyfriend home and to family functions.
The couple attended a Christmas Eve party with Sweatman’s maternal family the holiday before his injury, and a day later Sweatman was exiled by his parents.
“My parents at that point couldn’t deny it anymore — they knew what was going on, and they stopped speaking to me,” he says. “On Christmas morning, my mom wouldn’t even come out of her room until I left, or until we left, me and my partner.”
A few months later, Sweatman broke his foot, then lived through 18 months of physical pain and immobility that left him unable to work, and without any support except for his savings.
“I didn’t have my parents to turn to for them to say, ‘Everything’s going to be OK,’ and that was very difficult, especially the day of surgery,” he says. “My parents had always been there with me, any time I had surgery or any life-altering event, and they weren’t there. So I was dealing with the emotions of not having my parents there, and losing a part of my body at the same time.”
Reasons to live
Shortly before his surgery, Sweatman was grocery shopping at Ansley Mall when he decided to stop by the Pet Supermarket. The pet store had rescued animals available for adoption, including a shaved Shih Tzu who had spent her entire life producing litters in a puppy mill, and who had developed mange.
“I was immediately drawn to her; it was just one of those moments where I laid my eyes on her and I just knew,” Sweatman says. “ I knew that God brought her into my life. After I helped save Diamond’s life, two month later she was saving mine.”
Losing his leg was not the end of Sweatman’s misfortunes, as his partner of five years left him shortly after the amputation, breaking up with Sweatman on his birthday.
“I just felt like I didn’t have anything to live for,” Sweatman recalls. “I was starting to lose my mind at my point. I didn’t see any positives in my life and I tried to kill myself.” Sweatman was hospitalized after an unsuccessful suicide attempt, but returned untreated and dispirited.
“My dog Diamond eventually gave me the will to live,” he says. “On days when I wanted to take my own life, I would look at her and think to myself that I can’t abandon her. She had been through so much at that point, and I couldn’t make her go through something worse. And I knew how horrific it felt [being abandoned by loved ones], and I just couldn’t do it to Diamond.”
Sweatman’s selfless love for his dog, as well as a rekindling of his faith, helped him get past his darkest moments, and motivates him with his upcoming trek.
“After I had my leg amputated, one of the goals I had for myself was to walk a 5K because I thought that would get me back to a normal way life and being in control of my physical circumstances,” Sweatman says. “I just felt a calling from God that I can do better than a 5K, and that I could do it for other people, and not just for me.”