Chandler Balkman speaks at Harborview fundraiser
March 9, 2009
By Chantelle Lusebrink
To a crowded house at the Sheraton Seattle Hotel, Chandler Balkman recounted his amazing story at the 17th annual UW Medicine Salute to Harborview Gala.
The people sitting before him were the same doctors, nurses and hospital employees who helped make the moment possible.
On Aug. 3, 2006, Balkman, 16 at the time, and his father Steve went for a swim in Lake Sammamish. As they began to swim back from a buoy, Chandler was accidentally hit by the family boat, driven by his then 19-year-old sister Jessica.
His entire right leg past the hip had to be amputated and he endured countless surgeries, including a pelvic realignment and reconstructive surgeries to other areas where he was hit by the boat’s propeller. Fewer than 1 percent of all people who suffer such an injury survive, his doctors said.
Today, he attends Brigham Young University in Utah, where he is focused on studying science and medical courses, so he can help other amputees as either an orthopedic surgeon or as a prosthetician.
He spoke at the gala Feb. 28. The hospital’s largest fundraiser raised more than $1 million.
“I have spoken at small HMC events before, but it was a huge honor to have this opportunity to be a part of the gala,” Balkman wrote in an e-mail.
He answered some others questions from The Press about his life now.
Q: When did you first realize that people would want to hear your story?
A: When I was in the hospital, my parents, my granddad and my uncle especially kept nagging me to make sure I was keeping a journal, “because this story is one that people need to hear.” If it helps people in any way to hear my story, then I guess it’s not a bad idea to share it with them.
Q: How many speaking engagements have you done?
A: Between speaking for the Boy Scouts of America, at medical conferences and events, at school events and to youths in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I keep busy. However, I think the grand total is only around 12 times.
Q: How does it feel to tell your story?
A: When I’m speaking, I always remember more and more little details, and I recall all the feelings I had during the rougher times. It doesn’t make me sad or anything, but every time I tell my story it makes me even happier when I realize how improved my life is now compared to how I was feeling during the low points of my experience.
Q: What feedback do you get from your speaking engagements?
A: Speaking at an event like this gala is a humbling experience, because I am practically the youngest person in the room. So right after I finish, I’m always thinking that I bombed the speech, or that I said something stupid. What I don’t realize is that when the entire audience is older than you, they’re going to cut you some slack. Regardless of whether or not I said something dumb, peoples’ reactions are always positive towards me, which is encouraging.
Q: Is public speaking something you’ll continue?
A: I definitely am not planning on seeking out opportunities to speak, but if someone asks me to do it, I’m willing to help out if I can. However, this is something I do not want to make a career out of.
Q: What was the most interesting part of the evening with Harborview?
A: After all the donating was finished, a live band took the stage and I got to share the dance floor with many of the doctors and nurses that worked with me. The very professional, doctor-patient relationship dissolved, and pretty soon, it was just dancing with good friends. It was cool to realize that just a few years ago these were the people who were literally saving my life, and now everyone is healthy and everyone is happy, and all is well.
Reach Reporter Chantelle Lusebrink at 392-6434, ext. 241, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.