‘It’s Up to Me’
REGIONAL AMBASSADOR SERVES AS VOICE OF THE ADVOCATE
By Mike Crist, Editor
Alex Otte vividly recounts a conversation she had with her father shortly after she emerged from a coma when she was 13 years old.
Alex, who said she is a lot like her father, was nearly killed when she was struck by a drunk boater while jet skiing on a family outing. Her extensive list of injuries included severe brain trauma similar to shaken baby syndrome, a broken neck, bilateral shattered femurs, a lacerated liver, and a damaged right leg that led to amputation mid-calf.
The coma lasted almost a week. Her father was ready with an empowering message when she woke up.
“He said that all of the things that had happened to me up until that point were the choice of the man that ran me over,” Alex said. “He chose to drink. He chose to get in that boat. And then he said, ‘Every single thing that happens to me from now on is my choice. It’s up to me.’”
To know Alex’s answer, all you have to do is look at her resume. She’s 26 now, meaning her life is evenly divided between the time before the crash and the time after. It’s fair to say she has devoted the second part of her life to activism and empowering others.
She recently ended a two-year term as the youngest national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. She now serves as regional executive director for Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
She has also been a research associate and contractor with the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators.
And she has been a longtime volunteer with the Amputee Coalition.
“I would say that my leg is the least of my injuries,” Alex said. “It’s just the only one that you can still see.”
At the beginning of 2023, she began a new role as one of six regional ambassadors who is tasked with being the “voice of the advocates” for the Coalition. Alex is the ambassador for the seven-state Southern Region (Region 3).
The first group of regional ambassadors started Jan. 1. They will serve two-year terms that coincide with each new Congress.
Mo Kenney, former Amputee Coalition chairman and founder of Kenney Orthopedics, sought Alex out after seeing her in the news and encouraged her to become involved. Alex is also driven by a particularly intense memory from a past conversation that has remained with her.
“I received a call from the insurance company saying, ‘We’ve denied your leg. Please take it back to the doctor,’” said Alex. “That is something I will never forget.”
Because of that conversation, the Triple A Study Act is an important part of Alex’s activism.
Formally called the Access to Assistive Technology for Americans Study Act, the legislation directs the Government Accountability Office to study barriers to care for assistive technologies, including prosthetic devices, and evaluate how those affect patient outcomes. It examines when people can return to work, how frequently they’re denied insurance coverage, and how affordable devices are, among other elements.
Alex’s most fervent hope is that no one else should have a conversation like the one she had.
“They would never tell an able-bodied person that you’re not going to be able to walk again,” she says. “That is just beyond comprehension.”
Alex had never met another amputee before she became one. She wants to make sure others are seen and heard. When people look at issues from a new perspective, it is easier to get them onboard.
“If I don’t keep talking about it, it’s going to keep happening,” Alex said.
Her position as a regional ambassador won’t change the work she does for the Coalition, she said, but she hopes it will lend added credence to her message. She also will work with other lead advocates and volunteers to EMPOWER them to advance their capabilities.
When she was first presented with the idea of a regional ambassador, Alex thought it sounded good but she would be too busy to do it herself. But getting involved is the choice she always makes.
The important thing is to keep the conversation going.
“I wouldn’t take back what happened to me,” Alex said definitively. “I wouldn’t change it if I could. But I also wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”
BECOME AN ADVOCATE
Learn how by visiting the Grassroots Advocacy Center.