Michael Kogan was almost home after a late night drive from New York to Philadelphia. To the side of the road, he spied a young woman who was stranded with a flat tire. He pulled in front of her and got out to ask how he could help. He returned to his car to retrieve a jack. She went to get the spare tire out of her trunk. It happened in an instant. A car came barreling towards them. The driver never saw them. The crash killed the young woman instantly. Michael was pinned between the two cars. The force of the collision immediately severed both of his legs above the knee.
The first thing Michael did was call his mother. Five years before, they had immigrated together from Russia, living in the United States on green cards. Since he was seven years old, he said, Michael’s dream was to come to America. Somehow, he was able to stay calm. Somehow, he was able to keep talking to her, waiting for the ambulance.
Michael credits his mother for her unwavering support in the difficult times that followed.
It took a while to find the strength to continue. For months, Michael suffered from self-doubt and depression. The prospect of going out in public was too much to bear. He could barely eat or even talk. Before the accident, he had been very active, an avid dancer, a swimmer, an athlete. He played soccer at university in Israel. Now he was facing a life in which traveling even short distances could be difficult.
But the depression did not linger. Michael would not let it, not after he met with veterans who had come home from the Middle East missing limbs. They had moved on. They had made the decision that missing limbs would not keep them from living. It was like a switch in his head flicked on, he said. He would continue to create a life for himself, not dwell on what he had lost.
A Healthcare Battle
The emotional toll of Michael’s accident was quite enough to handle, but the financial toll threatened to be just as ruinous. There would be medical care, physical therapy, prosthetics – any single one of these would be difficult enough. Michael was stuck with all of them in short order. The biggest question was who was going to help Michael pay for state-of-the-art but expensive prosthetics. Michael’s healthcare provider balked.
Michael sought help from a personal injury specialist at Baratta Russell & Baratta. The firm’s main task was to pursue the legal case, to establish the facts, and to find and hold the right people responsible. Most importantly, Baratta Russell insured that Michael was awarded enough money to help him cover the cost of prostheses. With the firm’s guidance, Michael found a specialist who designed, measured and built a pair of customized prosthetic legs.
Michael’s case became an exemplary story of Baratta Russell’s commitment to assist and support clients beyond the courtroom. In addition to fighting the healthcare companies on Michael’s behalf, the firm also worked to speed the process to help him attain American citizenship.
Learning to Walk
While Baratta Russell helped Michael fight his legal battle and help him claim what was rightfully his, he continued to carry on his courageous battle to make a new life for himself. The grueling hours of physical therapy were made easier by a caring team of experts who understood the intricacies of his prosthetic legs.
Walking on the new prosthetics, called “C-legs,” is not easy. The microprocessor-controlled knees are far more stable than mechanical legs but take deft maneuvering. “Mike is an awesome wearer of prosthetic legs,” said Tim Rayer of Prosthetic Innovations, the local company that was instrumental in getting Michael on new legs. What sets him apart is that “he’s really willing to push it.”
Hours a day, Michael worked at getting his body used to a new gait, a new method of bearing weight. Sensors on his legs determine where force is being applied to the knee, and when to bend. Stairs, ramps and the uneven terrain of Philadelphia provide a unique challenge, but with his C-legs, Michael has an incredible range of motion. However, the legs are very expensive and must be replaced every three years. Even after the initial battle, Baratta Russell continues to work with Michael to make sure he will have the resources he needs in the future.
Today, Michael refuses to feel sorry for himself.
“I accept it as fate,” he said. He was only trying to help someone. That spirit sticks with him to this day. He is back in school, a full-time student studying physical therapy. He would like to work with amputees, to help them the way so many people helped him. Why? Because he believes it is the right thing to do.
“I lost my legs,” Michael said. “But I learned to walk again.”