Catching that football one-handed and scoring is almost every player’s dream, and 14-year-old Bryson Ewart is no different.
In fact, ever since he can remember, he’s played catch in the back yard with his dad, Brad, at their Bedford, Iowa home.
“I always drag dad outside to play catch with me, and every time to finish, I catch the ball one-handed on each side, just to do something fun,” he said, grinning.
So when Bryson saw the ball sailing through the air in his direction at a recent 8th grade game, he sensed it could be the one—the one he’d catch one-handed, just like he’d practiced with his dad—and it was.
When Bryson scored that two-point conversion for the Bulldogs, the moment couldn’t have been any sweeter, but not because he’s the typical teenage boy who loves playing football.
Dodging that ball
Nearly two years ago, at age 12, Bryson injured his right knee in gym class playing dodge ball.
“Someone threw a ball at me and I jumped over it,” Bryson said. Though he was safe, when Bryson came down on his right knee, he landed badly. “My knee was at a 90-degree angle with my full body weight on it,” he said.
Though Bryson didn’t know exactly what had happened, he knew it was painful, and he couldn’t walk. “My gym teacher and a friend helped me to the office, and I went home on crutches.”
Bryson’s parents, Brad and Theresa, suspected he might have torn his anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, but the doctors he saw thought otherwise.
“No one seemed to know what was wrong with Bryson’s knee,” Brad said. “The doctors we saw said a 12-year-old couldn’t tear their ACL.” One doctor even went so far as to say he guaranteed it wasn’t an ACL tear.
But once again, Bryson proved them wrong.
After two months of resting his knee, it was still unstable.
“When I tried to do anything on that knee, it was painful and popped,” Bryson said.
That’s when the Ewarts decided it was time to get an MRI. The imaging test confirmed that Bryson’s ACL was completely torn.
“I had just signed Bryson up to play baseball,” Brad said.
Instead, the family began searching for a doctor willing to take their son’s case.
A doctor worth driving for
As luck would have it, Theresa was in her doctor’s office a few days later and shared what had happened to Bryson’s knee.
“I just broke down. No one was willing to help us because of his age and puberty level,” Teresa said. “One doctor even told us Bryson might not be able to play sports until he stopped growing.”
But Theresa’s doctor told her he thought he knew someone who could help—Kevin Latz, MD, pediatric orthopedic surgeon and Chief, Sports Medicine at Children’s Mercy Kansas City.
“My doctor actually called Dr. Latz for me, and before I left his office, we had an appointment,” she said.
“Over the past 15 years, our position at Children’s Mercy has been that it’s important to reconstruct the ACL in a true pre-adolescent patient, like Bryson,” Dr. Latz said. “These injuries can and do occur. Surgical reconstruction provides long-term stability to the knee, while allowing these young, active patients to return to and enjoy sports.”
Because the Ewarts have a long commute to Kansas City, they met Dr. Latz at the Children’s Mercy North Clinic, a two-hour drive from their home.
At his first appointment, Dr. Latz confirmed that Bryson’s ACL was torn, but he looked at his patient as more than another ACL tear. He also asked him what sport he wanted to be able to play, and what his goals were.
“I told Dr. Latz I wanted to play football that fall, but he told me that wasn’t going to happen,” Bryson said. “There wasn’t time for me to rehab the knee before the season would start.”
But Bryson loves to play basketball, too. So he asked if that might be possible.
“Dr. Latz asked when my basketball season would start, and we told him early November. He said that could be a possibility if all went smoothly, but I would really have to work for it.”
With confidence in Dr. Latz’s skills and hope that Bryson’s ACL could be reconstructed, the Ewarts scheduled outpatient surgery for their son April 10, 2018, at the Children’s Mercy Adele Hall Campus.
But first, Bryson had to undergo extensive BioDex testing at Children’s Mercy Sports Medicine at Village West. BioDex is a high-tech device used to evaluate strength, endurance, power and range of motion of the major joints and muscles in patients before surgery and after rehabilitation.
The day of surgery, Dr. Latz carefully detailed how he would be reconstructing Bryson’s ACL. But shortly after surgery began, he returned to the waiting area to talk with Brad and Theresa.
“Dr. Latz explained that he needed to change the plan and use a different surgical approach because of Bryson’s puberty level and what would be best for him,” Theresa said.
“The biomechanics of an ACL tear in a child may be the same as in an adult, but these injuries can be more difficult to treat due to the growth plates located above and below the joint,” Dr. Latz said.
“Normally when we reconstruct the ACL, we use a graft from the side of the leg. We attach it to the bone by making tunnels in it,” Dr. Latz explained. “But in Bryson’s case, there was a chance that this approach could injure his growth plates.
“Instead, we opted for a different technique to attach the graft that would result in a better outcome for Bryson, and which reduced the risk of growth plate injury.”
On the rebound
A few hours after surgery, Bryson was on his way home to recover. He spent the first few days on bedrest and iced his knee to relieve the pain, but barely missed any school.
One week later, he started physical therapy in Maryville, Mo., just 30 miles from the family’s home.
“Dr. Latz didn’t want us to have to drive to Kansas City several times a week for therapy, but we would have done whatever we needed,” Teresa said.
Instead, Dr. Latz sent a prescription to the therapist recommending exercises designed for Bryson’s development and surgical reconstruction. At first, Bryson went to therapy three days a week, then two and finally just once a week. In between therapy appointments he worked on his recovery at home.
“The therapist gave Bryson a plan to work, and he worked it,” Brad said.
But Bryson wasn’t content to just do his therapy, he went above and beyond to try to get back in shape for basketball and football.
“A few days after surgery, I was out shooting hoops from a wheelchair with my grandma rebounding for me,” he laughed.
And inside, despite his mom’s protests, Bryson coaxed his dad into passing the football to him as he did sit-ups.
“Mom would tell us to stop, but dad would throw the football and I would catch it one-handed, right, then left.”
After months of therapy in Maryville and at home, and more BioDex testing, Dr. Latz gave Bryson the green light to play basketball again, and to meet his goal.
“I started out a little slow, but once I got back in the rhythm of the game, I had a great season. My knee felt good,” he said.
After basketball, he ran track, then attended a strength training and agility camp this summer at Northwest Missouri State University to help prepare him for football season.
Now 6’1”, Bryson has grown 4 ½ inches since the injury, and he has continued to follow up with Dr. Latz.
“Patients and families are critical to a successful recovery,” Dr. Latz said. “They’re an important part of the team. Much of Bryson’s success is due to the hard work he did in rehab, and the support of his family.”
Though Theresa admitted she was nervous about Bryson getting back out on the football field this fall, she has been pleasantly surprised, and so has Bryson.
“Football was awesome this year,” he said. “The season went by fast, but I met my goals. I caught the ball in the end zone for a two-point conversion, and I got my touchdown. I was doing my happy dance!”
Teresa and Brad are happy they found Dr. Latz and Children’s Mercy.
“The care here has been absolutely amazing. I feel like Children’s Mercy takes extra steps to be sure these kids are taken care of,” Theresa said. “It was 110 percent worth the drive!”