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Jump into river lands him in hospital

Time running out for surgery to save his foot from amputation

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Jump into river lands him in hospital

Levi Gray, 26, lies in a hospital bed at Memorial Medical Center in Modesto with a badly injured left ankle. Doctors have told Gray he will need plastic surgery or risk having his left foot amputated.

Photo contributed/

POSTED July 2, 2014 12:31 a.m.

Levi Gray followed the revelers up the train bridge that spans the Stanislaus River, eventually hurling his 265-pound body into the cool waters below.

“There were so many people floating the river that day,” said his wife Andrea Chapman Gray, a former student at Manteca High. “Everyone was jumping off this bridge. He has done it in the past. He’s floated that river plenty of times. All last year he went there and jumped off the bridge into the river.”

Piece of cake, Levi thought, after surveying the depth of his landing zone.

The 26-year-old anticipated a refreshing plunge. He expected to surface under his own power, climb back into his kayak and complete the afternoon paddle with his wife.

However, a different fate waited for him at river’s bottom. In a flash and heavy splash, Levi became this summer’s cautionary tale. 

He landed with the force of a bank safe, crashing against the sandy bottom. The impact snapped his tibia and fibula bones in his left leg, and the jagged edges pierced the skin above his ankle like harpoons.

Amazingly, Levi pushed his way to the surface, crying to his wife for help. She and two others sprang into action, pulling the mountain of a man from the water.

Levi was raced to Memorial Medical Center in Modesto, where he’d undergo four surgeries in the span of two weeks just to clean the wounds, reset the bones and insert a plate.

“The doctor said it was like panning for gold,” Andrea said. “There was so much sand in there.”

His nightmare was only beginning. 

The traveling pipe fitter, who was laid off in April following a job in Colorado, was told by doctors that his current insurance – Medi-Cal – wouldn’t cover the cost of the most important surgery.

This is where a gruesome story turns grim. The skin around the wound is dying and if Levi doesn’t have plastic surgery soon to repair the muscle and tissue he’ll need to have his left foot amputated. 

How soon is soon?

As of press time, Levi and his wife has seven days to find an answer.

Feelings of confusion and helplessness have mixed with the physical pain to create a devastating potion. Andrea has watched her husband – her rock and the family’s sole provider – cry more tears in the last two-and-a-half weeks than she has in years.

“My husband has always been the provider. Now he’s feeling kind of helpless because he can’t do anything to help us or himself,” she said.

“It was horrible,” Andrea said of the doctor’s news of amputation. “They basically told us there was no other option. They said there were five plastic surgeons in all of California that could do the surgery he needs. They called three of the five and none of them said they’d accept him.

“They said if we can’t find a doctor to do this, your husband will lose his foot.”

Know this about the Gray family: They don’t accept defeat. 

So while Levi is confined to his hospital bed with a wound VAC (vacuum-assisted closure and medication to fight infection, Andrea, 25, has sought remedy.

She is in the process of recouping their old insurance – United Healthcare – through his employer, TIC, an industrial company. She has been told a plastic surgeon at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center will accept United Healthcare.

There’s just one more hurdle. Money.

On Monday, Andrea cleared a $1691.39 debt with United Healthcare, which, she said, would effectively renew their policy. She’s still waiting for a receipt of payment.

Once it has been confirmed, the Grays can schedule the surgery. That’s all well and good … until you budget out the pending cost, which Andrea has.

The Gray family would need to cover the deductible for the surgery and a looming insurance bill in August. Grand total: $3,000.

With Levi out of work, Andrea has turned to family and friends for support. She started a GoFundMe account, which she and others have shared on Facebook. As of Monday, they had raised more than $2,200.

“He was about to go back to work in two weeks,” Andrea said. Levi’s job has taken them all over the country with Texas and Colorado the latest stops. “By now, we should have been back in Wyoming.”

Instead, they’re hunkered down in a dimly lit hospital room in Modesto, their future and the health of Levi’s ankle derailed by one fateful jump off a train bridge.

Fortunately, there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel – hope fueled by the donations and support of others.

“I’m so thankful,” she said. “I’ve got people I don’t even know donating. It’s very overwhelming.”

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