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  For His City & Family
Irreversible sacrifice was the answer for this officer and father

08:56 AM CDT on Sunday, June 19, 2005
By Donna Fielder / Staff Writer


Chris Summitt knew the kind of father he wanted to be. He knew the caliber of police officer he aspired to be. The best way to achieve those goals, he decided, was to amputate his right foot above the ankle.

Now, despite an on-the-job injury that could have left him permanently on crutches, not only can he chase a fleeing suspect, he’s the only dad in his 6-year-old son’s class who can take off his foot for show and tell.

Seven months ago, he found a doctor who agreed with his decision to amputate his foot instead of undergoing the recommended surgeries. Then he was fitted with a state-of-the-art prosthesis that allows him to run and jump. The most drastic measure, he believes, gave him back his mobility.

"It’s a real leap of faith," he said. "If I hadn’t had such a supportive wife and my faith in God, I don’t know if I could have done it. But with Emily and a lot of prayer, the decision was easy. It made the most sense."

Summitt, 34, came to Denton from Dallas in 1995 to attend

DRC/Gary Payne
Dr. Keith Heier examines the leg of Denton police Sgt. Chris Summitt, who chose to have his foot amputated, on May 16 in Carrollton.
the University of North Texas. While earning a degree in criminal justice, he worked as a jailer for the police department. After graduation, he was hired as an officer and finished first in his police academy class.

He married Emily in June 2003. She had already done one foreign adoption, and they wanted more children. In addition to Austin, 6, whom she adopted from Russia, they now have Elena, 3, and Halle, 2, who both came from China.

Recently, despite what some might call a handicap, Summitt was promoted to sergeant.

"I’m so grateful to the city for giving me the opportunity and the time to recover," he said. "The city has treated me above and beyond its legal duty."

His supervisor, Lt. Lenn Carter, has a different perspective. "I know that Chris feels grateful to the department for supporting him," Carter said. "I don’t think that he realizes that we as a department are just as appreciative of him and his efforts to return to the job. He has already demonstrated the type of insight and leadership skills that justify the chief’s decision to promote Chris to sergeant.

"His physical limitations, if you want to call it that, have not slowed him down at all. In fact, I’ll bet he still runs as slow as ever!" Carter joked.

The story on the loss of his foot begins on Oct. 23, 2003, when Summitt was a patrol officer working the night shift. He responded to a report of a burglar alarm at a business. He climbed steps cut into a concrete loading dock and started to check a door. It opened, and two masked men emerged.

They ducked back inside and Summitt backed up for better advantage to cover the door. He stepped back into space in the stairwell.

The fall shattered his ankle. He radioed for help and, from his position on the ground, kept his gun trained on the door until other officers arrived. The burglars were apprehended. But Summitt’s ankle was ruined.

He underwent surgery then, and again months later. He still couldn’t walk without crutches. Doctors said he had two choices. He could have surgery to fuse the ankle, making it permanently immobile. Or he could have an ankle replacement.

"Those are for geriatric patients," he said. "I found out that they [ankle replacements] are really for people who wouldn’t be very active. With the level of activity I wanted, it would wear out in three years."

He set out on a quest for information. Through the Dallas Amputee Network, he learned there was another viable option.

It seemed radical at first. Cut off his foot? But Summitt talked to another police officer who had chosen amputation and was back on the street. He learned about Dana Bowman, a member of the U.S. Parachute Team who lost both his legs in a parachuting accident. Bowman received two prostheses and now, he parachutes again.

"I wanted to be able to jog along beside my son when he was learning to ride a bicycle. I wanted to carry my daughters upstairs to bed at night," Summitt said. "I wanted to be a soccer coach. I couldn’t do any of that with the other options, but with a prosthesis, I could."

He talked to his fellow officers and to his wife.

"Emily would look at me and say, ‘If it was my foot, I’d cut it off,’" he said.

Emily Summitt said that once they decided on amputation, she had no doubts. They went through eight months of recovery after the accident and her husband still was hobbling on crutches. Another surgery and five months of recovery, and he still couldn’t walk.

"I knew he’d be able to do it with amputation," she said. "I had tears of sadness and tears of scaredness, but also tears of joy because the surgeries were over."

The timing was tricky. After more than a year of being off work, he was anxious to go back. Then the adoption came through for Halle.

"I wanted to go to China to pick up my new daughter," Summitt said. "I couldn’t do that on crutches. I went back to work after the surgery and six weeks later, they let me take three weeks off to adopt Halle. A lot of employers expect you to put your job before your family. The Denton Police Department is not that way."

Officials even gave him leeway on his recent promotion to sergeant. He scored first on the test, but a sergeant has to be able to back up his officers. Could Summitt do that? The city was willing to give him time.

"The promotion was supposed to be done by January first. The chief held it open until Feb. 15, when I was able to come back to work," he said. "They stood by me and gave me the time I needed to get healed."

Capt. Scott Langford, who commands the patrol division, said Summitt has shown tremendous courage.

"I am happy to have him on my staff and appreciate his positive attitude not only at work but in all aspects of his life," Langford said.

DRC/Gary Payne
Summitt walks back to his patrol car after making a traffic stop on June 9 in Denton.

Sgt. Chris Summitt says goodbye to his daughter Elena as she and the rest of his family -- his wife, Emily, daughter Halle and son Austin -- leave to visit friends on Thursday in Denton. They adopted Elena and Halle from China, and Austin had earlier been adopted from Russia by Emily.

Orthotic assistant Mark Roy examines Summitt's prosthetic foot during a checkup with prosthetist Catherine Mize on May 17 in Plano.

Sgt. Chris Summitt, center, talks with fellow officers Brian Simmons, left, and William Burson after a squad meeting at the Denton Police Department on June 9.

Chris Summitt plays soccer with his son, Austin, on June 9 at their Denton home -- one of a number of fatherly activities he's able to do with a prothesis following his foot amputation.

The other officers don’t cut him slack, Summitt said. They don’t try to compensate for any perceived disability.

"I think they expect to see me prove myself so they know if I’m backing them up, they can count on me."

One day he’d like to earn a master’s degree and try for another promotion. For now, he’s happy to be a patrol sergeant, which he describes as the best job in police work. He plans to be with the department until his youngest daughter finishes college, he said. Then he’ll retire.

And he’s a happy dad, romping with his three children on one foot he was born with and one foot that comes off when he goes to bed at night.

Anyone faced with a problem like his should contact the Dallas Amputee Network at www.dallasamputeenetwork.org, he said. The network is a good place for support and advice, he said.

"A lot of people think an amputation is the end of the world," Summitt said. "A lot of amputees really are disabled because they think they can’t do it and they don’t try. It may sound a little hokey, but it really isn’t about the disability. It’s about the ability."

DONNA FIELDER can be reached at 940-566-6885. Her e-mail address is dfielder@dentonrc.com.

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