#MySkyeBody Conversations - Dani Burt
Dr. Dani Burt, PT, DPT is one-of-a-kind. She is a professional surfer, speaker, Doctor of Physical Therapy and above-knee amputee. In 2004, Dani was in a motorcycle crash that put her in a coma for 45 days. The toughest time in her life was when she woke up from her coma. She thought her life was over. Today, she works as a Doctor of Physical Therapy at Sharp Memorial Hospital, the same hospital where she was a patient. Dani is also the first known female above knee amputee surfer in the world. She has been competing against male competitors since 2010. In 2017, Dani competed in an all-women’s division for the first time in the history of adaptive surfing. She was crowned the first-ever women’s World Adaptive Surfing Champion at the ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championships. She has represented Team USA for 3 consecutive years at the ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championships. In 2016, she was crowned the U.S. Adaptive Surfing Champion, defeating male competitors.
SKYE: Can you describe some of the thoughts or feelings you experienced when you were told you lost a limb?
Dani: When I was initially taken out of my 5-week drug induced coma I was really out of it. I could barely move and I couldn’t talk because I was breathing from a tube out of my neck. I remembered my crash but I had no idea the extent of my injuries. I knew something was going on with my right leg but I couldn’t figure it out because I was having phantom limb sensation so it felt like it was still there. I also couldn’t prop myself up enough to see if it was still there.
The surgeons didn’t want to tell me until I could speak again but I knew something was wrong. I motioned to my friend to tell me what’s up. That’s when they told me my leg was gone. I was devastated. Take all the negative feelings you’ve ever felt in your life, roll it up into a ball and feel every single one all at once.
At that moment, the way I felt, I couldn’t care less about being alive. I was angry that no one asked me what I wanted because I would not have wanted that. I was placed on suicide watch at that time.
Photo Credits: Left - Michael Bresnen, Right - Chris Grant
SKYE: What was it like looking at yourself in the mirror for the first time after the amputation and then with a prosthesis?
Dani: I felt sad. A really deep, down to your core kind of sadness. I didn’t recognize myself anymore.
Before my crash, I had a buzzed head more or less. Now, my hair had grown out, I had scars all over my body and I was missing the majority of my right leg. I was overwhelmed to the point that I felt numb.
SKYE: There’s a saying that losing a part of one’s body is like losing a member of one’s family. What’s your take on this?
Dani: I definitely see the correlation. I’ve lost several family members. At first, it’s so overwhelming. In both situations, you lose something that has been such a crucial part of your life that it feels like you’ll never get through the grief and magnitude of it all. I feel you have to make room for yourself to feel all those emotions and then move forward. As you do, you begin to see things in a different way. Instead of sadness and loss, you begin to feel gratitude. Gratitude for the time you did have with them or that part of you. It never completely goes away but it does get easier if you are open to it.
SKYE: Having gone through this process, what was the best advice you've ever gotten as it relates to (body image) acceptance and what is the best advice you can give to someone else currently going through the same or similar experience?
Dani: “Don’t limp.” I don’t remember who told me that but it stuck with me. Now, I do limp but it made me conscious of it and to put in the extra work it takes to minimize it. I don’t think of it in a way of wanting to walk like an able-bodied person but more along the lines of wanting to protect the rest of my body from over use due to compensating. My biggest advice is to be your own advocate because in a lot of cases, no one else will. Becoming an amputee can be a scary daunting world. Ask for explanations on the process. Educate yourself! I’ve been in situations where I’ve been shamed into thinking I didn’t understand or that it’s my fault the way my body is shaped. I’ve come to realize that that type of talk is common amongst this community. That type of talk comes from people who project the blame onto the client.
SKYE: What do you think is the key to self-acceptance and do you think total self-acceptance is truly attainable?
Dani: I think the most important thing is to go easy on yourself. That’s easy for me to say but I am known for being hard on myself. But I think it’s important to focus on the things that are within your control and look at things realistically. You can control the negative self-talk in your head by acknowledging it and letting it go. Creating a goal and aiming towards it is in your control. I do believe total self-acceptance of your strengths and weaknesses are attainable.
SKYE: How has social media affected your journey?
Dani: Social media has given me a platform to talk about the topics that are important to me. It’s been really amazing to hear from so many people. I value the opportunity to be able to answer the same questions I had when I first lost my leg and pave the road for others so the journey can be a little less bumpy. I’ve also gained all of my sponsors through social media which I’m stoked about because I speak my truth through my posts. I’m unapologetically myself and they support that. It feels good to align myself and support brands that stand for equality.
SKYE: Do you have a daily affirmation?
Dani: I don’t have a daily affirmation but I do have a mantra a friend passed on to me: on inhale “peace,” exhale “calm.” I use it when my mind ruminates on any particular thought.
SKYE: If you could be remembered by the world for one thing, what would it be?
Dani: That she truly stood and fought for what she believed in: Equality.
Photo Credits: Thumbnail - Michael Bresnen, Header - ImageQwest Photography