It was a day that changed Lyon County, Minnesota forever. Four students on their way to school killed in a bus crash. It's been more than five years since the accident, but for one of it's victims, the scars were a daily reminder. Now surgery is allowing one young man to finally move past the crash.
Like the rest of the Lakeview Lakers, Sawyer Stevens is getting ready for another football season.
Sawyer: I prefer center but I play the much anywhere on the line offense and defense.
Jake: Do you think it'll be a good year?
Sawyer: Oh I think so!
The fact that Sawyer is even able to participate is a miracle. Five years ago, on a cold February morning tragedy struck here in Cottonwood. A minivan slammed into Sawyer's school bus knocking it on it's side. Sawyer escaped the crash but his left hip and leg were badly broken. His brother Reed and three others never made it off the bus.
"There were four questions that he asked me the night of the bus crash and the fourth one was if he was going to walk again what he ever be able to play football again and so that injury has held him back." Said Kandy Stevens, Sawyer's mother.
Sawyer sustained severe nerve damage and over the years his foot muscles atrophied causing his toes to dislocate and curl, almost into a club foot.
"This is pre-operation, this bone here was basically almost on top of this bone." Said Dr. Alissa Redding, a Podiatrist with Avera Medical Group Marshall.
Sawyer limped his way through life until he met Dr. Redding at Avera Marshall. Dr. Redding was confident Sawyer's condition could be cured through surgery.
"He had tried everything, physical therapy, orthotics he actually had been in physical therapy for many years." Said Dr. Redding.
"I've had a lot of surgeries so I wasn't too worried. I just figured if it would help me get better although I'm probably not going to be playing football my whole life it will be always something that I'll be able to do more things." Said Stevens.
Sawyer's toe bones were essentially on top of each other, so Dr. Redding performed Interphalangeal Joint Fusions on each of his toes to straighten them out.
"One of the procedures was releasing some of the tendons essentially. The next step to prevent this problem from recurring was to fuse the joints in all the toes while still being able to maintain range of motion at the ball of the foot." Said Dr. Redding
Sawyer's foot is like new, he's not only walking like he used to; he's blocking like he used to.
"It's a lot easier now to move around on. The coaches have also noticed I'm faster just because I can use my whole foot from heel to toe when I run like other people do, unlike before I was a little off." Said Stevens.
"He's a completely different kid and it's so neat to see him walk without a limp to see his whole foot touch the ground and to just see that he doesn't have a foot that's kind of mangled and things that were out of his control but stuff that really kept him from doing what he loved." Said Kandy Stevens.
For the first time in nearly five years, Sawyer can look down at his foot and not be reminded of the crash that crippled him.
"It was hard to always know I was going to be different from people just with my foot and stuff so it was nice to have that erased." Said Stevens.
"I think this, this is what Reed would be proud of." Said Kandy Stevens.
Reed Stevens would have been a freshman in college this year. There's no doubt that every Friday night he's looking down as his little brother takes the field.
"I think he'd be proud of me... Of how far I've come." Said Stevens.
Sawyer will have follow up appointments to make sure his repaired foot and toes are holding up. But the Stevens' say being able to have this advanced procedure done in Marshall was a complete game-changer. For more information about interphalangeal joint fusion just call 877-AT-AVERA.