Column: A hit-and-run nearly ended an actor's life. Obi Ndefo plans to do much more than survive it

A hit-and-run nearly ended an actor's life. Obi Ndefo plans to do much more than survive it

8.12.2019

A hit-and-run nearly ended an actor's life. Obi Ndefo plans to do much more than survive it

A hit-and-run driver slammed into Obi Ndefo. Now this actor, writer and yoga teacher is a double amputee. But he has giant plans for his life.

Obi, 47, is an actor, writer and yoga teacher and the founder of

Late on the night of Saturday, Aug. 17, after teaching a class at

He was loading his groceries from the natural foods store into a cooler in the trunk of his parked car when an SUV speeding down Beverly Boulevard veered out of its lane and slammed into him. Obi’s right leg was severed, his left hung on tenuously by skin alone. The SUV’s driver reversed and raced off into the night.

You need to know about the violence. It’s at the center of this story. It divides Obi’s life before and after. But the violence isn’t the story because Obi won’t let it be. I am telling you the ugly details of what happened to him in order to help you fully appreciate the beauty of his response.

His surgeon, Dr. Milton Little, calls his survival “a miracle.” Miracle too that as the SUV smashed into him, he suffered no injuries elsewhere. But the biggest stunner possibly is the survivor himself, whom Little describes as “a light.”

He has plunged right back into his life. He talks openly about his trauma. He does not fold in on himself, origami-like, to shy away from eyes.

set up to raise money for prosthetic legs and uncovered costs and fixes to make his many-staired home in Silver Lake more accessible, he has posted videos of himself starting just 36 days after the crash, going to the gym and doing yoga and working his upper body from his wheelchair.

And he wants others to learn his story and draw from it faith in their own inner strength and capacity to face whatever comes. It could be a store shooting or a hostage situation or an illness, he said.

He’s shown me video clips and when I see his long legs in motion, I sometimes have to swallow a few times to hold back tears. But even as I look at him and at the stitches across the residual limbs that remain, I see wholeness because he is whole. Emotionally whole. Strong. Fully present. Frequently joyful.

Generous, too, is his approach to the driver who hit him.

He can’t afford that negative energy as he wraps his head around his new identity as a bilateral above-knee amputee and learns to navigate the world in a wheelchair as he readies for prosthetic legs.

“It’s just like, if you can imagine, a locomotive or a train and in order for it to function you have to have these men shoveling coal, I have to shovel these tears out of me in order to make room,” he told me. To make room to feel more of his feelings.

Obi Ndefo and fellow students form a circle at the end of yoga class.

They told him their own very personal stories. They confided their struggles. The former dancer with the Joffrey Ballet who became a nurse as his friends died of AIDS, the young surgeon who described how hard it was for her to feel seen and heard in work settings in which the leaders were men.

He has spent the last five years writing and pitching a TV show he co-created called “Juice Bar,” set in a more futuristic version of Erewhon — a place people crowd to in search of cures for all their ills. It gently and lovingly mocks that crunchy granola world he belongs to, but also subtly incorporates real ideas about better living.

In his wheelchair, as he talks of his many plans for a rich future, he pushes up on the armrests and lifts his body shoulder height into the air and it’s breathtaking.

Read more: Los Angeles Times

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