Soldier won't let amputated leg stop his return

MANSFIELD, Ohio (AP) - Garth Stewart held onto the parallel bars with both hands, bracing himself as he took his first steps.
He looked down, watching the floor each time he moved ahead.
Army Pfc. Stewart is learning to walk again. The 20-year-old lost much of his left leg when he stepped on what he thinks was a land mine in Iraq five weeks ago.
Learning to use his prosthetic leg is far from his only goal.
He plans to return to active duty to complete the final two years of his four-year enlistment. Then he wants to go to college.
"I think it's a matter of coping with your disability and learning to do the things you were doing before you were injured," he said.
Stewart, a member of the 1st Battalion of the 15th Infantry, and another soldier were walking along a road outside Baghdad on April 5 when something blew up.
"We both got knocked down," he said.
He looked down and saw that shrapnel gouged a wound the size of a softball several inches below his right knee. His left boot was mangled and bloody, but he could wiggle his toes.
"I was conscious the whole time. Our friends came by," he said. "We told them, 'Oh, don't worry about it. It's not that bad.' I was pretty tore up, but there wasn't much pain."
In a field hospital at Baghdad, surgeons took a toe off the left foot.
"I could see how torn up I was so to lose just a toe seemed too good to be true," Stewart said. "Sure enough ..."
Three more surgeries followed.
At a military hospital in Kuwait City, surgeons removed half of his left foot. In Germany, surgeons took off the rest of the foot and left ankle.
Finally at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, his leg was shortened to 7 inches, the optimal length for a high activity prosthetic leg.
Stewart was born in Ashland. He is now living with his father, Shawn Stewart, in New London.
Last week, Stewart pulled on a sock and a prosthesis custom-made for him over the last two weeks at Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics Inc. in Mansfield.
Beside him stood 40-year-old Dana Bowman, a retired Army sergeant who lost both legs nine years ago in a collision with another sky diver.
After nine months of rehabilitation, Bowman was the first double amputee to return to active duty in the Army.
Bowman, who now lives in Texas, came to encourage Stewart.
Along with warnings to avoid blisters and pace his therapy sessions, Bowman told Stewart that he still enjoys scuba diving and skiing.
"I don't have any handicap stickers," Bowman said. "Garth is going to be the same way."
William Neu, a licensed prostheticist, led Stewart through his first walk between two parallel bars.
"He has a great attitude," Neu said. "He's ready to get on with his life. You couldn't ask for a better patient."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)