An Australian man who split his foot in half from toe to ankle in an horrific motorbike accident in Thailand has embraced his ‘Pirate’ nickname despite still dealing with the physical and psychological effects of having the foot removed.
Jason Mitchell, 46, was working for a mate refitting and photographing superyachts in the resort of Phuket in December 2019 when he jumped on a dirtbike to head home.
He’d only travelled 300m when he encountered a group of locals on scooters stationary in the middle of the road. They didn’t move as he slowed the bike until, when he had nearly reached them, the group suddenly dispersed.
Mitchell changed his line to avoid hitting anyone and was sideswiped by one of the scooters. The impact forced him to scrape along the side of a parked car, smashing its driver’s side mirror.
‘I was still upright but I felt a little bump as I rode along the edge of the car,’ he recalled.
‘In Australia, car tyres have to be within the frame of the car but in Thailand, they let the tyres stick out. I hit the tyre… that was the little bump I felt. The compression of it pushed the foot peg of the bike straight through my foot.
‘When I looked down I could only see my big toe. Half my foot with the other four toes was underneath the foot peg.’
Mitchell pictured in a Thai hospital in the days after his accident. Thai doctors were initially optimistic his foot could be saved
Mitchell was riding this dirtbike down a road in Phuket when he encountered a group in the middle of the road. Trying to avoid them, he was sideswiped by a scooter and forced into a collision with a parked car
The tyre of the parked car which Mitchell struck as he scraped alongside, forcing the bike’s foot peg through the underside of his foot
The shots of Mitchell’s foot as Thai doctors attempted to save it by wiring it together are truly graphic
What followed was a nightmarish few weeks for the former professional fisherman from picturesque Stanage in Far North Queensland.
It began with a bizarre trip to the hospital in the back of one of Phuket’s ‘private’ ambulances and ended with $28,000 in Thai hospital fees, a painful plane journey back to Australia, and the eventual amputation of his lower leg in Royal Brisbane Hospital.
The bearded Mitchell, a father of two, said he is still dealing with the effects of the incident, including phantom pains and moments of depression, though he can still tell his story in a larrikin fashion.
Back in Australia, doctors informed Mitchell his foot was infected and would need to be amputated
Despite the pain, Mitchell learned to walk again with the aid of prosthetics as quickly as possible because of his hatred of crutches and wheelchairs
Mitchell said he stills feels phantom pain in his left leg, 18 months after the incident
Before the amputation, a doctor asked if he wanted to be an Olympic runner with a new prosthetic leg
‘They did call me a pirate before the accident,’ he said.
‘What a comedy of errors. [But] I always liked the pirate lifestyle, the old Jack Sparrow… the beard and the boats. But no one ever wants to lose a foot.’
Mitchell said he was in shock and coming in and out of consciousness at the scene of the accident as locals ‘stopped their scooters and took photos’.
He was put on a stainless steel bed inside a private ambulance – ‘some bloke’s van with a cross painted on the side’, Mitchell said – and woke up on the way to the hospital to find he’d been zipped up in a bodybag.
‘I wriggled out of it and I was like, what the f*%$! I actually leapt out of it and the Thais all cowered to the back of the van, like, “he’s come back to life!”… because I had already lost a lot of blood.’
In hospital in Bankgkok, Mitchell’s foot, split from inside the big toe almost to the back of his heel, was wired together. Local doctors were confident the foot could be saved.
As his toes began to discolour, however, it became clear Mitchell needed to return to Australia. Stripped of all funds by the cost of treatment in Thailand, a GoFundMe page started by friends and his parents helped him make the trip home.
The Pirate of Stanage in his favourite place, on a fishing boat in his hometown
‘Everyone looks on social media and thinks, “Ah, he’s great, he’s doing fine,” but that’s only the hours I can wear the leg for.’
‘The airline was a bit reluctant to let me on because I had all these wires in my foot,’ he said.
‘On the flight the vibrations of the plane, the jet motor, all that was playing havoc in my head, it was just indescribable pain.
‘But I was just glad I was coming home. I think I even shed a few tears flying in over Australia.’
In Brisbane doctors unwrapped his foot from its heavy bandages to discover a science experiment.
‘They couldn’t believe what they saw because there were at least a dozen wires in each toe, wrapped around each other up to my ankle.
‘I was missing two metatarsal bones and two tendons… the foot peg had come through and just crushed them up, I don’t know what happened to them.’
After four days in Brisbane, doctors advised Mitchell the foot was infected and that amputation was the logical choice.
‘A specialist came in and said, ‘”We can make you an Olympic runner, do you want to be an Olympic runner?”
‘I said, “I don’t want to run anywhere, mate, I just want to f#@*ing walk”.’
By March 2020, Mitchell was being fitted for a prosthetic leg. His hatred of crutches and the wheelchair meant the knockabout Queenslander ignored the pain of learning to walk again to show he could stand and walk with the aid.
‘The nurses were freaking out,’ he said.
‘I just took off, watching myself walking in the mirror. I was in pain but I didn’t show it.
‘But everyone sees on social media and thinks, “Ah, he’s great, he’s doing fine,” but that’s only the hours I can wear the leg for.’
The former professional fisherman sold his licence to take up the work opportunity in Thailand
‘Problem is, I think about the accident all the time, it plays havoc with my mind,’ Mitchell said
Now back in Stanage, Mitchell said he has good days and bad days. He’s trying to get back on his feet financially, saving for another fishing boat and running his company Maritime Media Services.
‘In the beginning it was all doom and gloom, then ok, you survive, glory days,’ he said.
‘You’ve just got to get through each stage.
‘Problem is, I think about the accident all the time, it plays havoc with my mind. Was it just an accident? Did they mean it? If so, why?’
One thing he’s come to terms with is the fact he’ll always be called the ‘Pirate of Stanage’.
‘Even during the amputation I was saying, “I’m going to be a pirate! I’m going to be a pirate!”
‘I had no choice.’