IT was the moment he feared he would never stand tall again.
Lying in a hospital bed Ryan Whitfield had punctured lungs, a bruised brain and was dealt the devastating news he had lost his right leg above the knee in a horror motorbike crash.
Now an amputee, aged 19, he was terrified he would never be able to walk again.
But remarkably Ryan has gone from the depths of despair to living the dream.
Today he’s worked with Brad Pitt on a Hollywood film, has flown in a Chinook helicopter and has even been rescued from a burning car.
Saying that out loud sounds so surreal, the dad-of-one bursts into laughter.
That’s because Ryan who works as an amputee actor can now say his disability has changed his life – for the better, something he never dreamed he would say.
“I’ve been living the dream and I feel so privileged.
“I know I woudn’t have been there with two legs, this just would not have happened.”
The day his life changed forever was Saturday, 5 August 2000.
Ironically his friend called Risky asked Ryan to show him the way to Bournemouth via the smaller roads on their motorbikes.
But as they overtook slow moving traffic in Ashurst, their journey ended suddenly.
Ryan explains: “I can’t remember anything. My friend later said a car suddenly turned right in front of me. I panicked and tried going round him, but he clipped the wheel and sent me up into the air to hit the lamp post on the other side of the road.”
Ryan has no more memories until three weeks later when he was awoken from an induced coma.
“I was out for the count. I woke up and I was in a haze of medication and distress. I was trying to grab tubes out of myself. I was very despondent to everything.
“Apparently I’d only look one direction when I did wake up.”
His first memory was hearing his brother break the news he had lost his leg high up just below his hip.
Medics were battling to save as much of it as they possibly could. He can’t remember anything – except his brother crying.
“It’s very weird how the body shuts down and doesn’t remember the trauma.
There was a cage around what was left of my leg and it was very badly damaged.
“You suddenly find yourself in the situation where you fear everything you can’t do anymore.”
Ryan, who worked as a DJ in Southampton at the time, said to find out he’d have to learn to walk again and learn to wear a prosthetic leg was a lot to take in.
He began sleepwalking but falling onto the ground at Southampton General Hospital and initially didn’t want a prosthetic leg, feeling he’d then have to admit to what had happened to him.
“In one flash moment you go from being 6ft 4in and standing among the giants of the world to then being in a wheelchair and having your head tapped for years, getting sympathy from everyone you meet. That was a whole massive journey of emotions to go through.
“I put on a brave face and there were lots of people looking back at me telling me I was lucky, but inside I was very subdued.”
Despite going through emotional turmoil, the former Taunton’s College student agreed to the prosthetic leg and learned to walk within a week.
In hospital he met a fellow amputee who told him about Amputees in Action, an acting agency purely for amputees – a meeting that would change his life for the better.
“He introduced me to this line of work that I never imagined could be possible. I started to focus on the things I could still do and it gave me a new focus.”
Ryan, who is now 32 and lives in Shirley, Southampton, started work as an amputee actor in 2010.
Initially he began taking part in simulation exercises for the emergency services and the Ministry of Defence to prepare personnel for what they are likely to see in an emergency or on the battlefield.
“The aim is to help them get prepared for what they might see. We simulate explosions and accidents and try to make it as real as possible so it involves taking my leg off and they put make up on the stump to make it look pretty graphic. It’s done to desensitise them because it does look pretty shocking.
“I have been in a Chinook helicopter and I’ve even been abroad where the Special Forces had to get me out of a burning car when they were blindfolded. Just incredible.
“They say without your help people would be dying so to get that kind of positive feedback from such a negative experience is just amazing.”
TV work has involved working on the series, Doctors, in a military hospital and more recently Ryan was successful in his application to work on the upcoming war film, Fury, alongside Brad Pitt.
Ryan explains he played five amputee roles in the film playing Nazi and American soldiers, which was shot in the Oxfordshire countryside – and even got to meet the international star.
“In between takes Brad Pitt was doing loads of star jumps, but then he was chain smoking. He was a pretty cool guy.
“It was just so surreal. I was like a child in a sweet shop!
“I saw Brad Pitt walking across the set one day without his normal entourage so I asked him to sign my leg, he looked at me and said ‘you want me to sign your leg?’I think he thought it was a little strange, but with that, he got on his knees in front of me and signed it. I just thought wow this is surreal.
“To think moments like that would not have been possible if I still had my leg is quite amazing and it shows there is always something good to come out of the bad stuff.
“Thanks to the crash, I’ve had some interesting life experiences and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”