Type B meningococcal disease thrives in close quarters. It attacks quickly and can be spread by close contact, coughing or sneezing. It inflames the membranes protecting the brain and spine. Tragically, it can kill within hours. For 18-year old San Diego, CA native Aaron Loy, the disease would mark a turning point in his life.
Today, he is a college graduate, associate at a top accounting firm, sled ice hockey player, weekend surfer and double amputee. Here is his story.
“I get to go at a speed and a pace that doesn’t matter if I have legs or if I’m able-bodied.”
Fresh off a successful high school senior year of athletic victories and academic accomplishments, Aaron Loy was quick to adapt to college life at UC Santa Barbara. He joined the Lacrosse Club, played intramural soccer and was a member of several other clubs on campus. Ten weeks into the first quarter, after completing his mid-terms, Aaron headed to the beach to surf. The following day, too ill to get out of bed, he was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with bacterial meningitis. (Three other UCSB students would go on to contract the disease.)
Aaron was put in a medically induced coma almost immediately. But the damage to his body was already underway. Blood clots stopped the flow of oxygen to his feet, and infected tissue began to overtake them. They were soon beyond saving. If the infection spread, he would die. To save his life, physicians removed both legs below-the-knee.
“Imagine being an 18-year-old and stripped of everything, even your own body.”
Surrounded by family and close friends, Aaron would awaken to a new life facing a dozen or more surgeries, skin grafts and rehabilitation. After ten weeks in the hospital and three months in a wheelchair, Aaron was determined to walk again. In fact, he vowed that he would drive, bike, surf and snowboard once more.
Over the next several months, Aaron embraced his recovery with the same drive and passion he had on the lacrosse field. Fitted with prosthetics, he learned to walk. Soon, the ocean surf would beckon and - with the support of his college team mates and coaches – he was back in the water.
“I hit the cold water and started to duck dive. Everything about it made me wonder why I waited so long.”
Aaron was back at school the following fall and was quick to discover a new passion – sled ice hockey. The sport is similar to ice hockey though the players are seated on sleds and use special hockey sticks with metal "teeth" on the tips of their handles to navigate the ice.
Over the next few years, Aaron would earn his economics/accounting degree at UCSB and continue playing a variety of team sports. As a member of the San Diego Sled Ice Hockey team without limitations.
“I love playing Sled Ice Hockey and I love being part of this team. When we’re on the ice, we’re just like any other team. Being on the ice is just a freedom for all the hardships we’ve gone through.”