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Double amputee cancer survivor overcame heroin addiction to compete in Winter Paralympics

Matthew Brewer, 46, was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2008 for which he was subscribed opiates to help cope with the pain.

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Matthew Brewer at the 2022 Paralympics. (Hanger Clinic / SWNS)

By Harrison Moore via SWNS

A double amputee who lost both his legs after a heroin overdose has represented the US ski team at the 2022 Paralympics - placing 12th and 25th in two slalom events.

Matthew Brewer, 46, was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2008 for which he was subscribed opiates to help cope with the pain.

He began using the drugs to manage the emotional and physical pain of the disease - which quickly spiraled into regular heroin use.

The once keen surfer, BMX rider and snowboarder developed a strong addiction to the substance, which took over his life and isolated him from friends and family.

Matthew's addiction resulted in jail time, interventions and rehab before he suffered a heroin overdose in 2014 that changed his life forever.

He passed out on his bathroom floor, with all circulation to his legs compromised for nearly 18 hours before he was found.

Doctors were able to save Matthew’s life, but only through performing a double above-knee amputation.

But he has now bounced back - competing at the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games earlier this year.

Matthew from Huntington Beach, California said: "I was using prescribed opiates to deal with the pain of cancer - but my doctor suddenly cut me off.

"It left me with severe withdrawal symptoms and whilst running with a bad crowd I was tempted to try heroin.

"The moment I tried it all my withdrawal symptoms went away and I was instantly hooked.

"After getting clean in 2014, a girl stood me up who I'd been talking to online and that was enough to make me relapse.

"That's when I overdosed and woke up 18 hours later and developed compartment syndrome in my legs which meant doctors had to amputate."

Matthew Brewer in a wheelchair. (Hanger Clinic / SWNS)

The next two years were among the hardest of Matthew’s life, as he struggled to finally overcome his opiate addiction, and learned to adjust to life in a wheelchair.

A turning point came in April 2017 when his sister Tera, 48, encouraged him to sign up for Hanger Clinic's Bilateral Above-Knee Amputee (BAKA) Bootcamp in Oklahoma City.

Hanger Clinic is a leading national provider of products and services that assist in enhancing or restoring the physical capabilities of patients with disabilities or injuries.

The event was put on to teach those with the same amputation level as Matthew how to be mobile and active again.

Matthew Brewer at the 2022 Paralympics. (Hanger Clinic / SWNS)

There he met other amputees and survivors with similar stories, and for the first time, saw his life was still full of the same potential as before.

He wheeled into the event in his wheelchair and left on short prosthetics legs provided by the charity, with newfound mobility and an unwavering determination.

Now, over four years later, Matthew has worked his way up to walking independently again.

Not only that, he recently achieved a life-changing goal of becoming a Paralympian on the US's alpine ski team - after just two years in the sport.

Matthew was ranked 14th in the nation by the U.S. Amateur Snowboard Association during his youth.

Matthew Brewer in the hospital. (Hanger Clinic / SWNS)

His elite snowboarding background proved imperative when diving into the highest level of his sport.

Matthew said: “I was a competitive snowboarder in my late 20s, early 30s, and I just really missed the competitiveness of competition.

"So, after I lost my legs, I decided to try adaptive sports with a great foundation out here in Los Angeles called Angel City Sports.

"Understanding edge control and understanding the fall line of the mountain and snow conditions is really important in all snow sports.

"All of these affect how one gets down the hill, whether it be on a snowboard, skis or a monoski."

Matthew spent around 25 hours a week training, on top of spending time in the gym and meditating in preparation for the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games.

Matthew Brewer trying prosthetics for the first time. (Hanger Clinic / SWNS)

He competed earlier this month, coming 12th in the slalom and 25th in the giant slalom.

As well as this, Matthew has medalled in several other adaptive sports competitions over the years including swimming and running.

Now Matthew mentors others in the limb loss community and attends Hanger Clinic’s BAKA Bootcamp events as a mentor - sharing his success story with others.

The 46-year-old also provides peer support in a testicular cancer support group, to help others through their own battles with the disease.

Matthew said: "I just try and go out and ski my best every day.

"No matter where I place, the important thing is, I survived my darkest days, and what drives me now is showing others that they can too."

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