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Nothing could stop this determined runner 

Josh Mankiewicz - Dateline NBC

Tom White: There's an internal feeling that I get when I run... and it's something that's hard to explain. Maybe it's the same feeling that a musician feels when they play or something.  But when I run, I feel a rhythm. 

Tom White discovered running in the third grade, and it became his life. He was also racing towards an event that would change the course of his life.

In his junior year of college, Tom was running a four-minute mile.  But he was also speeding towards a decision that would change his life: one that would raise a series of medical, ethical and deeply personal questions: What would you give up for your family?  Or for your health? And what would you risk to continue doing something you loved? How far would you go?

It started on a summer night, on a dark country road.

Tom White: I was riding home on my motorcycle about 10:00 p.m. at night. I came up behind a truck.  A pick-up truck. And it was going slow.

What Tom didn't know was that he was sharing the road with a drunk driver.

Tom White: The truck veered left off the road. And so what I had to do to try to avoid the truck, was I veered back right to get back on the right side of the road on my motorcycle and I did clear the rear end of the truck, except for my left foot.  And as I was sliding on my back, my legs were in the air and could feel my left foot just flopping back and forth. 

His left foot had been all but ripped from his body.

Josh Mankiewicz: So you go to the hospital and you say to the doctors...?

Tom White:  Save my foot. I'm a runner.  Save my foot.  That's what I told 'em.  And they said, "You know, you might be better off with an amputation."

Josh Mankiewicz: And you were having none of that--

Tom White:  I was having none of that.

Josh Mankiewicz: what did you think of amputation? What'd you think of amputees back then?

Tom White: I really-- I had never been around an amputee. I'd never been, never been exposed to anything like that. And so, the--that thought was horrifying.

Tom was Med-Evac'd to a hospital.  He had done everything in his power to stop the bleeding. Dr. Richard Janson got the call.

Dr. Richard Janson: Tom was very awake and alert and realized what a desperate situation this was for his foot. And I took one look at it and realized the same thing. And I talked to him and said, "You know, the chance of this working is really, really low. And Tom said, "Try it. Please. I want it."

For Dr. Janson and the rest of the team at St. Mary's hospital in Grand Junction, Colo., it was an enormous challenge.

Dr. Richard Janson: I keep turning this over in my head, while this is going, is this something that I can do?  This is a big deal. 

The question loomed: Could they do it?  And if they did succeed, would Tom be able to walk again? Vein by vein, artery by artery, nerve by nerve, Tom White's foot was re-attached to his leg. But even before doctors knew if the 21-year-old would be able to walk normally, his mind skipped ahead to the thing he most cared about.

Tom White: Most of my life at that time was running.  And at the time, initially, I thought that I might be able to run again. But as time went on, that became apparent that that wouldn't happen.

Still more surgeries and skin grafts followed. And after hundreds of hours of physical therapy and two full years on crutches, Tom white was able to walk again. In 1990, he was accepted to medical school at the University of California at Davis.

While there, Tom met - and married - his wife, Tammy, who was studying physical therapy, a field he had come to know better than he wanted to. And ironically... Tom's new love shared his old love.

Tom White: Tammy was running and she was running lots of really neat trail runs and stuff in northern California. And I was thinking, "Boy, that looks like fun." And she'd come back and tell me how awesome they were.

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