On the evening he turned 14, Tarver Hannant got on his dirt bike to follow his younger brother Justin home after celebrating at a neighbor's house in Iliff, Colo.
His 11-year-old brother crashed the Subaru he was driving into a utility pole, causing a live electrical cable to fall on Tarver's head. (Yes, 11. They were, as Tarver says, "country boys.")
When the accident happened Aug. 9, 1992, the electrical charge burned Hannant's scalp and most of the skin on the left side of his body. The charge also paralyzed his left foot before exiting through his left knee.
Fifteen years and more than 40 knee surgeries later, Tarver Hannant was living in Northeast Portland and had grown so sick of the intense chronic pain in his leg that he finally had it amputated May 31 at Good Samaritan Hospital. (He hosted a going-away party before that included 30 pounds of chicken legs.)
"We knew this was coming for a long time," says Hannant, whose wife, Tara, is pregnant with the couple's first child. "But I'm a very stubborn man. It just got to the point where I couldn't even go to the grocery store."
Hannant, an account executive for a lending company, soon discovered how painful the financial burden of a prosthetic replacement can be. His insurance company, HealthNet, would contribute only $5,000 annually toward what he expects to cost $30,000 to $40,000 this year for his leg and prescriptions, plus future annual check-ups.
Hannant overcame his sticker shock to create Shirts for Limbs, a nonprofit to defray the costs of his prosthetic limb and perhaps, ultimately, prosthetics for others like him.
"Insurance companies can cap what they pay for durable medical devices, and there's nothing really out there for people in my situation," Hannant says. "I started [Shirts for Limbs] because I got pissed at the medical insurance system."
In the United States, there are about 2 million amputees, and another 185,000 new amputees each year, according to the Amputee Coalition of America. HealthNet says most health plans pay a maximum benefit of $5,000 annually, which covers most durable medical equipment.
For now, Hannant is hoping to sell enough T-shirts—which read, "This shirt bought Tarver a leg"—to pay for his new limb. To reach his goal of raising $40,000, he must sell 2,000 shirts at $25 each, once printing and materials costs are subtracted.
He operates a website (tarverc.wordpress.com/shirts-for-limbs) and has already sold 300 shirts. If he raises enough money, Hannant plans to expand his venture into helping more people needing prosthetic limbs.
Hannant will host a T-shirt sale at 6:30 pm Sunday, July 1, at the Horse Brass Pub at 4534 SE Belmont St. If drinking to a good cause sounds fun, Hannant says he'll buy you a beer if you buy a shirt. Now that sounds like some positive energy.