“Yeah, Mom.” That’s how Kevin segued into many a sentence or question.
“What’s up, son?,” I asked. “Yeah, Mom. Do you think if I commit to Saturday league basketball I’ll commit to football?”
Throughout his middle school years, Kevin often came home with papers for the wrestling team, maybe football too. Somehow, none of them ever made it back to school. When he posed the question, he was a high school freshman.
“Sign up for basketball, then see what happens when it’s time to commit to football.”
Kevin did exactly that. The following spring, he got his physical, turned in his football papers and started training for the sophomore year.
His commitment seemed to last. He did what he had to do. He never grumped about practices and even did some weightlifting at home. He played sophomore year. He held a starter defensive position with the Junior Varsity team. He sacked the quarterback several times during games. Coaches hinted that scouts were eyeing him for possible college scholarships. He dreamed about Division One schools.
The JV team also attended all of the varsity team’s Friday games. They suited up and backed up their senior teammates every weekend, usually to stand around, regardless of the weather. Chances are, many of them, Kevin included, pictured themselves as next year’s varsity players.
Fast forward to Monday, November 16, 2015. We learned, after the accident, that Kevin was told to suit up for a final JV game late that afternoon, a makeup game. Hubby and I hadn’t missed any of his home games, but we didn’t know about this one. We were home when “the call” came. Kevin had been injured. By the time we got to the field, he was already on the med cart. By a fluke mistiming, his teammate landed on Kevin’s right knee helmet first.
“I can’t feel my foot, Dad.”
Even as an occupational therapist with rehab training, getting my 6-foot, 300-plus-pound “little one” into the car was a feat. Pushing him up the hospital entrance ramp in a wheelchair was an even greater challenge. (His 5-foot ma managed though!) He was treated, splinted and sent home with instructions to see the orthopedist, who immediately ordered an MRI.
Two days later I caught the foot drop. As an occupational therapist, I was familiar with common leg and foot injuries, but it took a few minutes to process what I was seeing. I knew something was seriously not right.
On Saturday morning, Hubby came in sobbing, inconsolable. “Everything that poor kid worked for - finished! It’s over!” The orthopod, who also happened to be Kevin’s school team doctor, had called Hubby to tell him the results of the MRI.
Kevin’s knee injury was deemed “life-changing.” Our orthopod told us the severity would require a team’s intervention. He referred us to NYC’s Hospital for Special Surgery.
Although we, as north-central New Jersey residents, live a mere forty minutes from “the greatest city in the world,” we’re not big fans of traffic, parking garages and NYC as a whole. The thought of visit after visit there was a tad overwhelming.
But, two weeks to the date of Kevin’s injury later — and on his 17th birthday — Hubby, Kevin and I piled into my 2002 Camry and made the first trip. So much for forty minutes in the car. The ever-backed-up FDR turned the ride into a two-hour trek.
But, we were blessed to have scheduled an appointment with the poised and gracious Beth Shubin Stein, who specializes in knee and shoulder repairs. She listened politely and with apparently genuine interest. She talked about knee reconstruction and assured us Kevin would have a stable and functional knee at the end of his journey. (Kevin’s surgery took place on 2/16/2016.) He spent 2 months non-weight bearing and progressed through physical therapy. His knee improved and continues to do so to this day. Dr. Beth made good on her promise.
Kevin’s foot drop persisted. Dr. Duretti Fufa teamed up with Dr. Shubin Stein: to assess and clean the peroneal nerve, which had been severely injured. Dr. Fufa tag teamed with surgeon Dr. Mark Drakos for a combination tendon and nerve transfer, a procedure performed at only two other facilities in the US. The purpose of the tendon transfer was to enable Kevin to walk without a brace. The latter procedure, if it took, could help Kevin gain close to normal strength and/or movement. (Most patients whose foot drop is corrected after surgery tend to operate at about 80% of the strength they had pre-injury.) Very few of them run.
The hospital experience was wonderful — the absolute nicest people running a highly organized ship.
These world class doctors don’t mess around; a compliant patient should expect to do very well under HSS care. Kevin will never play organized football again (in part, by choice). But, he drives right footed again. He runs short distances, albeit slowly. (He’s young and will most likely continue to improve.) He plays half court and full court basketball and even some recreational football with his friends. (Mom would feel so much better if he wore his knee brace while doing so, but what’s a mom to do? Football is part of his DNA—kinda like how his ma believes one of life’s greatest gifts and/or joy can be found on a tennis court.)
We are eternally grateful to the amazing staff at HSS. Kevin won’t ever set a playing foot on a college or pro football field, but because of every one of you, he’s “Back in the Game,” at a far higher level than we would have imagined in November 2015.