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UT senior Travis Bryan, a student veteran, knows that receiving his diploma is a huge accomplishment. But for Bryan, the prospect of walking again is even more exciting.

Bryan, 42, is completing his bachelor’s degree this fall after having his leg amputated over the summer. He injured his knee in the military. Fourteen surgeries and an infection later, he opted to have his right leg removed just above the knee.

“I was in a lot of pain,” he said. When doctors explained that the infection was also potentially life-threatening, Bryan knew what he needed to do.

“I figured I could live without my leg,” he said.

Bryan is one of about 962 students—435 veterans and 527 dependents—using Veterans Administration benefits to attend UT this fall. From negotiating his return to civilian life to maneuvering the paperwork associated with his educational benefits to learning to deal with a disability, he’s tapped into the wide range of support services the university provides veterans.

Bryan enlisted in the Marines in 1998 after a year of college.

He spent three months in boot camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island, South Carolina, and then headed to the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida, to be schooled in repairing the video technology that helps military jet crews pinpoint their targets. About a year in, he hurt his knee while running during a training exercise.

Image of Travis Bryan

He had several surgeries before being medically discharged from the Marines in 2003. Because of his injury, he was never deployed.

Over the next few years, Bryan worked for two electronics companies, got married, and earned two associate’s degrees. He also had several more knee surgeries, including a cadaver bone graft.

In 2015, Bryan and his wife, Joann, moved from western North Carolina to Knoxville so he could attend UT. He’s majoring in management with a collateral in information systems.

Bryan had been at UT for about a year when his knee began hurting again. More surgeries ensued.

In January 2019, he began what was supposed to be his final semester at UT. But his knee hadn’t healed and infection had set in.

He dropped his classes in March and spent two weeks in the hospital in May. Rather than participating in commencement, he watched online as his friends graduated.

When his doctor began talking about more surgeries, Bryan cut to the chase.

“I asked him about amputation,” he said.

The next month, Bryan underwent two surgeries to remove his left leg just above the knee.

He amazed his doctors and friends by cracking jokes rather than crying.

“I don’t like being a sad person,” he said.

In August, only two months after his amputation, Bryan re-enrolled at UT.

Bryan was in Dana Carroll’s 400-level information management class when he temporarily dropped out for the amputation. He’s now taking her class again as he finishes his degree.

“Travis is an amazing man and a wonderful student. I was very sad when Travis informed me of his medical situation,” said Carroll, a lecturer of accounting and information management in UT’s Haslam College of Business. “His positive attitude and perseverance in a very difficult situation is so commendable. Despite his hardships, he always came to class with a positive attitude and a smile on his face. I am so proud of Travis for his resilience and his accomplishments.”

During his time at UT, Bryan has found friendship and support at the Veterans Resource Center on campus. Through the VRC, he became active with the VolFighters, the campus chapter of Student Veterans of America. The VRC staff also assisted him in finding counseling to help him cope with being an older-than-average student, to handle his guilt about having a noncombat injury, and to focus on coursework while dealing with chronic pain.

Bryan had another surgery over fall break.  He’s hoping to be fitted with a prosthesis soon.

“You can sulk and be really mad, but you heal better when you’re happy. I’ve accepted my situation and it’s not going to stop me.”

UT’s graduate hooding will be held at 4:30 p.m. December 12 and undergraduate commencement at 9 a.m. on December 13, both in Thompson-Boling Arena. The university will award 1,191 undergraduate degrees, 1,171 graduate degrees and certificates, and one law degree. See the commencement website for details.

Contact:

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, ablakely@utk.edu)