Kevin Dunbar(NEW YORK) — Among the thousands of runners in the 2014 New York Marathon aiming to break personal or even world records, one runner will simply be happy to cross the finish line on his own two feet.
Ken Dunbar, 33, nearly lost his right leg three years ago after an accident during a soccer game. A rare complication from a single kick during the game led to swelling and tissue loss in Dunbar’s leg.
It started when a player accidentally kicked him squarely on his right calf. Dunbar said he felt a pain similar to a cramp.
“When you get a cramp, it feels like the muscles are tightening and won’t stop pulling,” the Cincinnati man told ABC News. “Over the course of the next hour or so, it kept getting worse. “
By the end of the late-night soccer game, Dunbar was in the hospital unable to put even the slightest pressure on his right leg.
Dunbar said doctors at the hospital quickly realized he had dangerous condition called compartment syndrome, where the blood supply is cut off from part of the limb because of an injury and swelling.
“The swelling starts to push in on bone and all of that and it cuts off blood circulation,” Dunbar said.
A hematoma or a collection of blood similar to a bruise in Dunbar’s leg caused swelling in his lower right leg, cutting off blood flow to the area. Severe cases of compartment syndrome can result in tissue death that leads to amputation.
For at least one day he was still unsure whether he was going to get to keep his leg.
“They were checking the pulse every hour,” he recalled. “If I started to lose a pulse in my leg. They were going to amputate.”
To relieve the swelling, doctors made incisions from the bottom of Dunbar’s knee to his ankle. When tissue started to die in his leg, Dunbar said doctors had to go in and cut it out. He spent more than a week in a hospital bed on morphine with no chance of quick recovery.
As he lay in bed, high on painkillers, Dunbar remembers one moment clearly.
“If I can get through this week without [their] taking my leg, I am going to start running again,” he recalled thinking.
When Dunbar was finally released, he still had his leg, but was unable to put any pressure on his injured leg, much less run on it.
“I was on crutches and it was wrapped up so much and it was very, very painful,” he remembered.
But even at that early point he was determined to get back into a race.
During four months of intense physical training, Dunbar focused on one goal: He wanted to run.
While he had been a runner in high school, he spent over a decade trying out other sports as he married and had three children. He said the accident made him want to get back to his roots as a runner.
“We fought through physical therapy, which was months and months of physical labor,” he said. “They got me back to where I was able to run.”
When he was finally approved to run, Dunbar set his goal on his first race in years: a half-marathon.
“I did my first half-marathon,” Dunbar said. “As soon as I got done, I said I need to do a full.”
Dunbar has since run nine marathons in six states and plans to run in a marathon in all 50 states. But the father of three is especially excited to run his first New York marathon along with around 50,000 participants.
“New York has been on my bucket list,” Dunbar said. “Between New York and Boston, those are the two that I want to do the most. [New York is] the one every runner wants to do.”
After fighting back from his injury, Dunbar says he doesn’t mind the lengthy training it takes to run a marathon.
“With any training you’re going to have your ups and downs and bumps and bruises,” he said. “That’s part of what makes marathoning so enjoyable. [After] 18 to 23 weeks of training, you don’t know how it’s going to go.”
Dunbar said the race will be just the second time he’s visited New York. But that this time he expects to see much more of the city.
“The fact I’m going to go through all five boroughs and all different types of New York City,” Dunbar cited as what he’s most excited about.
“The fans in New York, there is no comparison,” he said.
Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio