Personal Tragedy, Publicly Shamed

Apr 15, 2015

Credit Courtesy of Maggie Baumer

In 2012 Maggie Baumer’s future looked bright. Fresh out of law school she was living in Manhattan and was practicing as an associate attorney at a prominent immigration law firm in the city. Having started her career as a mental health counselor on a psychiatric ward, she was embracing her new field, and was thriving in the world of law. And like many young professionals, she looked forward to letting loose after a stressful work week. That’s just what she was doing on October 27th, 2012.   

Maggie lived on the first floor with windows that looked out into a courtyard. So her plan was to slide down the trash chute into the basement. From there she’d walk up the stairs into the courtyard, and crawl through her window.

Maggie looked down the chute and could see clear down to a light in the basement…or so she thought. So, as a friend looked on, she climbed in, and slid down. 

Maggie didn’t see the trash compactor, hidden from view. As she turned around to go out feet, the machine locked down on her arm, unable to free herself, she called up in a panic to her friend, who dialed 911.

She was rushed to Bellevue Hospital where she underwent an 8 hour surgery to reattach her arm. Two days later, super storm Sandy hit. Bellevue was put on a backup generator and patients were evacuated. Maggie was sent two and half miles uptown to Weill Cornell Medical College. Her family, who traveled to the city to be with her, was stranded in Brooklyn, unable to see her. A week later she underwent a second surgery to reconstruct her elbow.

As Maggie endured all of this, something else was percolating. The day after her accident The New York Post carried the story with the headline “Drunk Lawyer Crushes Her Arm Trying To Get Into Her Chelsea Apartment.”

The picture accompanying the article was of Maggie, in a sunburned vacation shot wearing a tube top, her head cocked to the side, smiling at the camera. The story, and Maggie’s full name, job title, and picture, made their way to the New York Daily News, Business Insider, the media blog Gawker. The industry blog Above The Law ran with the headline: “A Recent Cardozo Law Grad Gets Trashed—Literally.” The story even spread internationally, and found its way into the Daily Mail Uk before Maggie was even out of the hospital.

But she was focused on other things, namely, the recovery of her hand. After more hospital visits, and several limb salvage surgeries Maggie’s veins clotted and her hand became necrotic. A month after the accident, Maggie’s hand, wrist and lower forearm were amputated. And as she recovered and set about adjusting to her new physical reality, the weight of the tabloid stories came down on her.

Two and a half years have passed since Maggie’s accident, and while her story was just a snide drop in the tabloid bucket , the incident changed her life in dramatic and profound ways. Her physical recovery is now complete, and she’s awaiting a new prosthesis, which should be arriving any day now. She left the law firm she worked for in New York, and after a year recuperating at home, she decided to stay, starting a new career working for a prosthetic company and working with other amputees. She is the President of the Board of Directors of Women's Voices Worldwide.