'It's the small victories each day, the little things, that get me through the day'

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Destiny Phaneuf tries her luck at some trout fishing near the Garage Way dam in Lebanon. With her is her mom, Patricia Delsanto. While we were there, they caught two keepers. (Rochester Voice photo)

Editor's note: Today we take a look at how Destiny battled depression and thoughts of suicide, what finally turned her life around and her need for a new prosthetic that will allow her to walk more than 10 minutes without crushing pain. Second of a two-part series detailing the 10-year-anniversary of a train accident in Lebanon that injured two girls, including Destiny Phaneuf. First part published on Monday.

LEBANON, Maine - When Destiny Phaneuf returned to Noble High in the fall of 2008 little did she think that her classmates would insult and taunt her for losing much of her leg when she was hit by a train the previous May. But she did.

So after suffering ongoing abuse, teasing and ridicule at the North Berwick high school, Phaneuf said she left Lebanon and moved with her family to Rochester, N.H.

She said while her notoriety was far less prevalent at Spaulding she nonetheless grew more depressed, even suicidal due to the ongoing surgeries and rehab associated with the loss of her left leg just below the knee.

"I began to do self-harm, cutting," she said. "I also developed a panic disorder, agoraphobia (amid) the fear of people judging me."

Despite her emotional setbacks she managed to get her GED at 17, and immediately enrolled in Empire Beauty School, but that didn't work out either.

"I always have a hard time keeping jobs, the interaction with people and panic attacks," she said, adding that issues with her difficult recovery and adaption to various prosthetic over the years have taken a heavy toll, both physically and emotionally.

"My leg gets sore. I've had six prosthetics and none have been successful; they always give me pain," she said. "I can't work for more than 10 minutes without pain."

She was also diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, which causes a hormonal imbalance and metabolism problems. It also makes it harder to lose weight.

On her Go Fund Me page she notes that her leg was severed close to her knee, and the doctors who initially treated her knew the best thing was to save the knee, but many reconstructive surgeries have left scar tissue that can be painful.

What she really needs is a special waterproof springed ankle that will allow her to walk up and down stairs and hills and give her general ankle function.

"There's so many things you can do with money," she said. "You can get the most amazing prosthetic. The one I have now cost $67,000, and it doesn't work. Insurance will only go so far.

"There is a certain foot that has a spring. They (insurance) can't cover what I need: a whole new prosthetic with the new ankle."

Phaneuf also has scoliosis, due to the strain on her back by not being able to walk properly.

"I don't want to be in wheelchair when I'm 30," she adds with a mixture of dread and fear.

While her physical woes are far from over, Phaneuf has found solace in a new place, Manchester, N.H., where she met Phelan Ritchie, her boyfriend. They've been together two years, and Phaneuf said he's been there for her all along.

"I decided after Empire didn't work out, I don't have to be in school, so I moved far away," she said. "Going to Manchester was a necessity, it's been so much better. And the years have gone by so it's easier that way, too."

Looking back on all that she's been through, the thing she'd like most to transform is the way people judge her. With visible anger she again derides the early press accounts that said she was "sunbathing" on the tracks.

"I don't mind when the story is accurate, but I don't want to be looked at as a stupid little girl anymore; I want to be more inspirational," she said.

The media did her wrong, she said, and they continue to get it wrong, she believes.

"I think all America knows the media is destroying how we treat each other and people shouldn't believe everything they see and hear unless they know it's from that person," she said. "The important message is people should be nicer to each other. I just think people should treat each other with compassion."

She said her mom, Patricia Delsanto, and boyfriend have been her anchors.

"My boyfriend has helped me immensely and I don't know what I would do without either one, but it's the small victories each day, the little things, just enjoying the simple things in life that make a huge difference in my life," she said. "Those small things get me through the day."

If you would like to donate to help Destiny get a new prosthetic, including a special ankle and foot that would allow her to walk without constant pain, click HERE.

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