From tragedy to triumph: Student who lost leg helping Detroit crash victims lands dream job

Catch Sean on the airwaves in South Bend

Sean English is lucky enough to have already landed a job. Although “lucky” isn’t normally a word you’d use for someone who starts their day by attaching a prosthetic leg.

On a lazy Friday in a Purdue University classroom, it’s tough to concentrate. Not only is the weekend near but so is graduation.

“Erin is still plugging away on those applications,” Professor Liz Evans can be heard saying. “It will happen. Everybody does get a job.”

Sean English is lucky enough to have already landed a job. Although “lucky” isn’t normally a word you’d use for someone who starts their day by attaching a prosthetic leg.

Four years ago, we last visited with Sean, a high school senior at the University of Detroit Jesuit. While we were all amazed at his seemingly constant progress and relentlessly positive attitude, his real healing started the day he arrived in West Lafayette.

“Nobody knew who I was,” he says. “I was a regular student with a clean slate, and that’s what I needed.”

Sean was finding out about the person he’d like to become. Part of that has been talking about what happened to him six years ago, which he’s fine doing, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a little fun with it first.

“I’ve said shark bites, that I didn’t eat my vegetables. I get them laughing, and once they start laughing, then I can tell them the story,” said Sean.

The story begins just after 7:30 a.m. on April 2, 2017.

A Jeep rolled over with six teenagers inside on I-96, and Sean stopped to try and help. So did 48-year-old Dr. Cynthia Ray. The good Samaritans then became victims themselves when a drunk driver lost control and crashed into them. They were rushed to the hospital, where Sean had to have his lower right leg amputated. Dr. Cynthia Ray later died.

The loss of his leg was devastating for Sean, a cross-country runner, but we watched as he quickly stood on a new prosthetic, then walked… and then ran.

It was inspiring to watch from afar, but Sean has had to learn to ration that energy.

“A few years ago, I thought I was Superman. I still think I’m strong, but I look in the mirror now and can say, ‘Hey, today is a rest day.’ I know there’s valor in asking for help. It took me a few years to figure that out,” said Sean.

After his freshman year, Sean was awarded the Tyler Trent Courage and Resilience Award. Tyler was a Purdue student who lost a battle with cancer, but not before inspiring those on campus and beyond.

“I think the pressure of living up to his name and living up to Dr. Cynthia Ray’s name is something that makes me a better person every day,” Sean told Local 4 with a twinge of emotion on his pursed lips.

Every day Sean sets out to impress someone. Maybe it will just work, considering he’s been a bouncer and then a bartender while at school. He also plays pick-up basketball— yes, with his prosthetic. That usually impresses the guy guarding him.

His next challenge is the job he’s off to. He’s headed to South Bend, Indiana, to work as a multi-media journalist for a local TV station there. In other words, he’ll be a one-man band, shooting his own video while doing the reporting and lugging all that gear around.

“After having so many relationships with news reporters and MMJs, I’ve learned to love the business. I’ve learned to love storytelling,” he explains in referencing the many news stories done on him. “If you’ve taken the time to tell a story about me, then that inspires me to tell the story of other people.”

The career goal is pretty simple for Sean.

“With me being so family oriented, it’s to get back to Detroit,” he says. “It’s been a dream of mine since I decided I wanted to do this… to do it in the city that changed my life.”

Watch the extended interview with Sean below

Previous coverage: Student athlete, doctor both critically injured trying to help I-96 crash victims in Detroit

About the Author:

Jason is Local 4’s utility infielder. In addition to anchoring the morning newscast, he often reports on a variety of stories from the tragic, like the shootings at Michigan State, to the off-beat, like great gas station food.