Student-made documentary tells stories of students without limbs

Anna McCreary

Ty Wilson said he’d always heard losing a limb was like losing a loved one. 

In his upcoming documentary, Wilson, a radio-television-film senior, follows the lives of four UT students who, like him, live without one of their limbs. The film, set to release in May, weaves their stories with his own — he lost his left leg after a car accident in 2013. 

“Not everyone has lost a limb, obviously, but a lot of people have lost someone special to them,” Wilson said. “This film is inspired by that — what you’ve lost. These students [in the film] are prevailing, getting gold medals and meeting presidents and doing talk shows. They have gained so much in their experiences, and that’s what I’m focusing on.” 

Wilson said so far, sharing his own story has been challenging. 

“To turn the camera 180 [degrees] and look at me — it puts me in a very vulnerable position,” Wilson said. “It takes some courage, for sure, to be so open like that. I don’t know how [the others] do it.” 

Wilson said he has learned a lot through his student interviews, particularly from UT alumna Jamie Schanbaum, who contracted meningitis suddenly in 2010 and later had her legs and fingers amputated. Now she is an advocate for meningitis awareness and vaccination.

“When she was telling me [her] story, it was like she was telling [it] for the first time,” Wilson said. “It’s still a fresh wound. She deals with it day by day, and she has to wake up every morning and put on this face and be strong about it.” 

Even though he and Schanbaum have moved on and healed in various ways, Wilson said neither would ever forget the exact moment their lives changed.

“For Jamie, she got sick all of a sudden,” Wilson said. “With my car accident, I went through a similar thing. After August 19, my whole life went in another direction. I definitely feel as if I’ve moved forward and tried to heal, but that day is always going to be hard, even if I share [my story] a million times.”

Another student, computer science freshman Jacob Tobias, was born without his left arm. As one of the three best high school baseball players in his position, he hopes to walk onto the UT baseball team this summer. If he makes it, Tobias will be the first UT player to play with one arm. 

Tobias said he wants to be able to do everything a two-armed person can do.

“I only play piano because someone told me I couldn’t,” Tobias said. “Some kid was like, ‘Finally found something Jacob can’t do!’ And I thought, ‘Thank you,’ and I immediately went and got piano lessons a few months later, and I took piano for three years.” 

Kelli Bradley, executive director of Services for Students with Disabilities, said their office works to promote an accepting atmosphere by ensuring students with disabilities receive the same opportunities as other students.

“Our office engages in outreach across campus in order to make campus a more inclusive, accessible and welcoming environment for people with disabilities,” Bradley said.

Despite all that Wilson lost, he said returning to this campus was his only goal after his accident.

“I knew if I came back that everything would be OK,” Wilson said. “I’m still learning and growing, and the story’s still not done, but I love where I am now. This documentary is another step forward, and I can finally get to a place where I can share my story and relate to people who know what I’ve been through.”