Camdin Crouse swears it was a miracle.
Crouse, quarterbacks coach at Robert Morris, remembers every minute of the May 3 fishing trip in Snow Shoe, Centre County, that left him fighting for his left leg -- and his life.
He was on a recruiting trip to central Pennsylvania and decided to surprise his mother, who had just undergone double fusion back surgery, by spending a few days at home in Snow Shoe.
The day before his return trip, Crouse joined his friend Jimmy Brooks for an afternoon excursion to some backwoods trout streams. The trout weren't biting, but among the trees, streams and mountains, Crouse was in his element.
As darkness descended and the light rain began to pick up, the duo jumped into Crouse's side-by-side all-terrain vehicle and took off down the rails-to-trails path toward home.
Clipping along at nearly 30 mph, Crouse spotted a downed limb ahead. As he swerved to avoid it, he lost control of the ATV on the slick grass. The vehicle hurtled toward a bank and wrecked.
Crouse doesn't remember what he hit. His dad and brother visited the site later and said that he went through a tree. Dazed but alert, Crouse called out to check on Brooks.
"Jimmy came running up and started screaming bloody murder," Crouse recalls.
Crouse had an open compound fracture -- his tibia had pierced through his skin of his left leg. Without a tourniquet, Crouse was in grave danger.
He needed a miracle.
Crouse was wearing a new fishing vest that had been passed down to him by his grandfather, Louis Crouse, a preacher who died three years ago. When he put the vest on earlier in the day, Crouse noticed a trout stringer in the pocket.
It saved his life.
"It was almost like my grandfather was there with me," Crouse said. "The first thing I grabbed was the stringer in my vest."
Brooks has military experience and applied the makeshift tourniquet. Then, he flipped the ATV back onto its wheels and hoisted Crouse into the bed of the vehicle.
Despite significant damage, the ATV managed 10 mph as Brooks steered it off the path and onto a local side road. They stopped at the nearest home.
An ambulance arrived 20 minutes later, and, after another 20 minutes, a helicopter ambulance flew Crouse to Altoona and then on to the Geisinger Medical Center in Montour County.
Crouse was discharged from the hospital Wednesday.
Doctors at Geisinger first attempted to save Crouse's left foot by cleaning out the area and then considered using skin grafts. That became unrealistic.
"We came to the realization that the way to have a normal life was to have a below-leg amputation," Crouse said. "I was content with that."
On May 14, Crouse had his left leg amputated below the knee. His vital signs stayed steady for a week and he was nearly ready to leave the hospital.
But May 21 -- his 24th birthday -- Crouse slipped into septic shock caused by a bacterial infection in his leg. His blood pressure dropped to life-threatening levels. Doctors hurried him into surgery May 23 and performed an above-knee amputation to save him.
When Crouse left the hospital last week, the statistics of his stay were staggering: 14 procedures and more than 25 units of blood in 27 days.
Crouse said he always believed in God, but never took it as seriously as he wanted to. But his journey, from the moment he gripped his grandfather's trout stringer, altered his perspective.
"I pray every day now -- I thank my grandfather, I thank the Lord," Crouse said. "Everything I do from now is going to be in the Lord's name. It's really been life-changing.
"I really believe God puts people in these situations that can handle it, that are strong enough to, and I'm here now. I can leave the hospital, my spirits are up, and I can't wait to do all the physical therapy to get back."
Crouse played quarterback for the Colonials from 2006-09and had been chasing his football dreams in indoor leagues with the Wheeling Wildcats and Erie Explosion. The amputation effectively ended that dream. But Crouse won't let himself consider the negatives.
"I'm lucky enough to be alive, and after I went through septic and everything ..."
His voice trailed away.
"Everything happens for a reason."
Robert Morris coach Joe Walton didn't know how to respond to Crouse's accident.
"I was in complete shock, like everybody else," Walton admitted. "It's been a tough few weeks."
Crouse spent four years as a quarterback under Walton, and then signed on as a graduate assistant quarterbacks coach in December 2010. He is on track to complete his master's degree in instructional leadership in August. Professors are allowing Crouse to complete his courses online.
"Coach Walton is like a grandfather figure to me," Crouse said.
While Crouse lay in a hospital bed for the past month, Walton wanted to help. When Crouse's family established a website at www.helpcamdin.com to get word out and gain support, Walton found his opening.
He discovered it would cost Crouse $55,000 for a permanent prosthetic leg -- his insurance would cover $5,000 of the cost. Add a month-long hospital stay and the 14 procedures, and Crouse's expenses are far beyond what a graduate student can afford.
When Crouse's family began looking for financial support, Walton spread the word on the Robert morris campus and began culling funds wherever he could.
Walton raised $10,000 from his annual spring golf outing to donate to Crouse's cause.
"And then it just kind of snowballed from there," Walton said.
Within five days, the foundation had raised more than $49,000 for Crouse. An anonymous donor pledged to match that amount, putting the figure near $100,000.
Crouse's family shifted the fund-raiser into something of his own brainchild: the Camdin Crouse Foundation. Once his medical bills are paid off, Crouse plans to use any other funds to help others with similar medical problems.
He will receive a temporary prosthetic leg in a month, once the swelling subsides; he won't receive his permanent fixture for at least eight months.
Crouse's goal is to return to the sidelines this fall.
"My plans are to be on the sideline this season helping to coach the quarterbacks and the young men I love so much at my alma mater," Crouse said.
Walton said the staff has its fingers crossed that Crouse can return this year. And, even if he can't make it onto the field, he's just as valuable in the football building as a video coordinator.
"He's as smart as a whip," Walton said.
That's not Crouse's only goal.
"The past 27 days have been up and down, but I found my calling alongside football and coaching."
That calling? Crouse plans to use his experiences from football and his injury to be an inspirational speaker.
"I may have lost a leg, but they can't take my heart or charisma."rmusports
Stephen J. Nesbitt: email@example.com, 412-263-2193 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.