FEATURED STORY: Issiah Evans
Issiah Evans is not your ordinary 5th grader - at the young age of 10, he tore his ACL and battled through the lengthy recovery. Passionate about football and basketball, Issiah was motivated to get back onto the playing field. His determination and hard work paid off, as he made an extraordinary comeback.
The following story is told from the perspective of his "super mom", Kimberly Nelson:
"Since Issiah was 5 years old, his coaches have told me that my son has gift for football - he was a Captain and a leader on the football field. For Issiah, football is his passion and basketball is "his life". He played on a basketball team throughout the summer and winter months - these teams comprised of some pretty extraordinary players and Issiah would work all day and night (literally all night in the dark) trying to improve his game. That's just how Issiah is and always has been - he is hard on himself in every aspect of his life. For instance, he has never had below B grade in any class, and every night before bed, he would lay out and iron his own uniform. He wants to be the best that he can be at anything he does.
Life took a turn in early November during the first game of the regular 5th grade basketball season. Issiah went up for a rebound, fell, and didn't get up. As a sports mom, I didn't rush over - instead, I gave him a moment to collect himself. Shortly after, the coaches and I noticed that he was crying, and that's when we all rushed over. His coaches, who have known Issiah since 2nd grade, have never seen Issiah cry before. So this time, they knew something was terribly wrong, and helped carry Issiah to the sideline. I figured it was probably just a bad sprain. We iced it elevated it, hoping he would feel better in the morning. The next morning I noticed some significant swelling and decided it was worth a trip to get checked out. I'll never forget the phone call on my way to the hospital when his football coach (who happened to be at the game that night) called expressing his concern for Issiah. This coach had known Issiah since kindergarten, and again had never seen him cry .
When x-ray results came in, the doctor seemed immediately concerned; almost in denial, and requested that he get an MRI as well. When the MRI results came in, she told me she could not believe it. She had suspected a tear because of the bone bruising, but at age of 10, it was so uncommon and unlikely, that she did not want to alarm me. However based on the results, I was told that Issiah had completely torn his ACL.
We had no idea what we were in for. I called his coach and he tried to argue with me, telling me that there must have been a misunderstanding, as he was way too young to have had a torn ACL. At the time, neither Issiah or I understood the severity of the injury. As we spoke with the surgeon a few days later he had to accept the fact that his basketball season would be over, and that he would need to prepare himself for surgery. This was tough for Issiah, and all he could think about was "what about football?". He accepted that his basketball season would be cut short, but this would be his 6th grade year in football - his final year in peewee, which was a big deal for him.
The surgeon called Issiah his "special case", and wanted to try a new procedure since they did not have the proper size graft to repair a ACL on a still growing child. Issiah worked hard in physiotherapy; he went 3 times a week for approximately 6 weeks until February 8th - surgery day. They opted to use his IT band instead of the patella or hamstring graft and operated on the sides of his legs instead of straight down the middle as most ACL surgeries are done - the surgeon believed that it would be easier to move around his growth plates that way. The surgery was planned for 3 hours, but ended up taking 5.5 hours - I was a mess in the hospital waiting room, sitting with his basketball coach, who was by my side trying to reassure me. Initially, the doctors told us Issiah would be going home, but was later told that Issiah would definitely be staying overnight for pain management and to begin therapy. When I finally had a chance to see Issiah after the surgery, he was in good spirits up until the nerve block and pain medication wore off. The staff could not stay on top of his pain, so when the physical therapist came to his hospital bed to work with him, he was in so much pain they could not do anything with him. So we stayed another night. Issiah had lots of visitors - coaches, teammates, and family all came to support him.
I took a week off work because they told me he would be getting around pretty well after a few days. There was absolutely nothing in the world that could prepare me for the upcoming days and weeks helping him through the early stages of the ACL recovery. We were home by Day 3, and there was nothing but tears, Vicodin, ibuprofen and the dreaded lifesaving ice machine. Every 4 hours I had my alarm was set to give him his painkillers, and if I slept through an alarm, his crying would surely wake me up. I was emptying pee cups and filling ice machines around the clock for 3 more days. This was not the son that I was used to - little did I know it would be some time before I had my son back. I had to call his football coach to help me get him in the van because we were having a 45 min standoff trying to get him to therapy. I was nice, I was mean, I cried, but nothing worked. Therapy consisted of a nice massage and some stretches followed by a lot of pain. Wheelchair-bound, I could see my son slowly fading to the swamp of sadness and despair. By Day 5, he was apologetic and felt like he was inconveniencing me with all this injury, and that made me sad. I told him the stronger pain medications were making him feel that way, and he told me to throw them away. I assured him he was not being an inconvenience, but with 3 other kids to take care of, he knew it was rough for me, and felt like he was being a burden. I called on his two best friends to come over for a sleepover, and that was probably the best thing I had done for him.
Fast forward to summer break with AUU basketball in full swing - Issiah was down to one crutch and finally a lighter full brace. Initially, he would go to the games to watch, as his twin brother was on the team. Sometimes, I would watch him on the bench and actually start to cry embarrassingly. Nothing prepares you for the mental side of this injury, even as a mother. He looked so sad as he watched his brother and teammates. The next weekend and the following weekends, he no longer wanted to attend to watch the games. He couldn't bare to watch. I pulled up to the house one day to see him sitting in the driveway with some headphones on, dribbling his basketball. He had hopes that if he worked hard enough he would be ready for his 6th grade peewee year. Sadly, his surgeon informed him that his knee would not be ready. The coach and I encouraged him to come out to the games, and that they would put him on the staff. The football coach told me he needed him out on the field, even if to assist with coaching. Issiah refused. He did not want to be out there watching everyone else play. He became withdrawn, frustrated and angry.
6th grade peewee came and the team made it to the Superbowl but lost, with every parent and coach telling my child that that's why they needed him out there. I became upset. Didn't they know he wanted to be out there badly but couldn't? They made Issiah feel like it was his fault. Not being able to nurse the mental part of his recovery was absolutely the worse feeling as a mother. I can get him ice and pain medications and help with the physical pain, but psychologically, my boy was struggling and it broke my heart. The Issiah I had known was such a strong, proud and determined kid - this was not my kid. The summer was full of limitations and frustration. Everyone was their bikes while Issiah was on his wheelchair. I reminded him that his situation was temporary and we watched videos of wheelchair sports. Eventually he was relieved of the physical pain, and his determination returned. The surgeon said he was ready for winter basketball as long as he wore his DonJoy knee brace during all physical activity. My son smiled so wide when he tried on his new brace and was told it was time.
The beast was unleashed!
After months of physical therapy, the return to basketball deemed a little more difficult then he expected. Not being able to pivot quite like he used to and struggling with the quick breaks were frustrating for him. He didn't trust his new knee and being out of shape from the surgery really wasn't helping. His coach was supportive and encouraging, but would still keep him on the sidelines quite a bit, telling me that he needed more therapy.
All I saw was my son giving 110% effort, but he was not where he used to be, and we both knew it. That didn't sit well with Issiah, who went back at training hard - he went home and practiced in the snow in the dark. I'd go to sleep hearing basketballs dribbling each night. By then, he was down to physical therapy only once a week, and eventually he was discharged. It was all up to him now. So here we are now...
Issiah is one of the hardest working kids on the team and is back getting his well-deserved play time after all his hard work. He lost all the weight gained from the surgery, and is currently training for the upcoming 7th grade football team, while still playing basketball on the weekends. He's excited to get to go to nationals with his basketball team in July. However I know in my heart the moment he puts them football pads on will feel like the greatest accomplishment of his life. I tell him all the time he needs to be proud of everything he's accomplished in 1 year alone. This was his battle that only he could win. His own little victory mentally and physically that not many his age would understand."