Illustration by Eric Stampfli

On an unseasonably warm day in December 1964, 19-year-old Dick Elhardt, of Roseville, Minn., and his two best friends went for a joyride in his friends’ Austin Healy. It was the day before Elhardt was to be drafted, and they wanted to have some fun before he left for Vietnam.

The three friends were clean and sober when the driver overshot a curve, sending the trio over an embankment. The sports car landed upside down, killing the driver and pinning Elhardt half in and half out of the vehicle as it burst into flames. His other friend, who was thrown through the windshield, was able to pull Elhardt out from under the car and save his life.

Within days, however, gangrene set in and both of Elhardt’s legs were amputated above the knee; doctors said he received the worst third-degree burns they had ever seen. Since then, he has battled a cycle of substance abuse–pain medication, marijuana and alco