Bakersfield police Sgt. Dennis Eddy, who lost the lower part of his right leg in a 2008 shootout, says he is grateful to a fellow police amputee in San Francisco for encouraging him to resume his law enforcement career. Eddy has now dedicated himself to reaching out to others who have lost limbs.
Eddy wanted to be a police officer since he was a teenager growing up in Arvin. He saw it as a way to really make a difference in the community.
After a three-year stint in the Army (he signed up for Operation Desert Shield, but was sent to Alaska), Eddy hired on as a Bakersfield Police Department dispatcher in 1997, and became a full-fledged officer in 2001.
On the evening of Feb. 9, 2008, Eddy and Officer Joe Cooley were making the rounds on their second shift together as partners in the gang unit. Before the night was over, Eddy was shot twice by a parolee: Once in the chest over his heart, and once in his right leg.
Fortunately, the bullet over the heart was stopped by body armor. However, a major artery in his leg was destroyed.
As he lay in the dirt, and before the bleeding was under control, Eddy said his head felt like a washing machine.
"It felt like my life was draining away ...My family and my children were the only thing on my mind. I was thinking I might not get to see them again."
Eddy was first taken to Kern Medical Center. Later he was transferred to the Buncke Clinic at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, where he was given two options: He could keep part of his right foot, but would be unable to work again as a police officer. Or, the lower section of his right leg could be amputated and fitted with a prosthesis allowing him to eventually return to police duty.
The evening before he was to give the doctors a decision, San Francisco police officer Eric Batchelder strode into Eddy's hospital room to talk with him. Eddy didn't notice at first, but Batchelder, who was dressed in his SFPD uniform, was an amputee. The lower part of Batchelder's left leg had been severed in a motorcycle accident in 2005.
"He told me amputees can do anything," recalled Eddy. "I decided to amputate my leg below the knee after we talked. I had surgery the next day."
Eddy went back to light duty in July, and returned to full time duty in December 2008.
Eddy noted the first year and a half was a big adjustment. But the love of his family, including his wife and two sons, and the love of his job, as well as the overwhelming support from the department and community, spurred him on during his recovery.
"I still have a 4-foot-long, 18-inch deep box filled with cards and posters from school kids. It all helped," he said.
One poster from Palla Elementary School made him laugh. Along with the drawing were the words "I'm just glad you're not dead."
After his return to work, Eddy began to receive calls from a couple of medical professionals to help other amputees wrestle with myriad issues. Depression is a large part of the adjustment.
"Today, I get the biggest number of calls from a workers' compensation doctor. He calls me about other traumatic amputees, such as oilfield workers and correctional officers. He will say, 'This guy is having a hard time. Can you go and talk to him?' It gives them hope."
Eddy would like to start a support group for amputee police officers, but has had difficulty finding more than four, despite numerous Internet searches.
"I found one officer in San Bernardino. Then there's Batchelder, me and Mike Crowe," recounted Eddy.
BPD officer Mike Crowe faced a similar choice last year and is being helped by Eddy.
Crowe was off-duty when he was hit on his motorcycle by a teenager who was texting while driving. He had graduated from the police academy a week prior to the accident and was 24 hours away from beginning his first patrol shift.
"I honestly don't know if I could have handled it as well at his age (24)," Eddy said. "I was 38 when my leg was amputated."
Crowe has since returned to work.
In thinking over his journey, Eddy mused, "It's kind of like a pay it forward. The San Francisco officer helped me. I've helped Mike. And now Mike is helping 10-year-old Ethan Perez, who lost his leg last year."
Perez, a student at Endeavour Elementary School, suffered from a painful condition in his left leg and foot that prevented proper blood flow to tissue. He had an amputation above the knee in October 2012. Perez was eventually fitted with a prosthesis and returned to school in January this year.
Since returning to work, Eddy has come up through the ranks and was promoted to sergeant in May this year. He now supervises patrol officers, which includes being out in uniform and on patrol, too. He likes dealing with new officers.
"I was fortunate enough to work with some really good people. It has helped make what I do now that much easier," Eddy said.
This year, Eddy will be at the 31st Annual Bakersfield Police Memorial Run on Saturday at the Park at River Walk. Proceeds from the run benefit the educational needs of surviving children of BPD officers killed in the line of duty.
Maureen Buscher-Dang is a Bakersfield public relations consultant.