In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

October 13, 2016

After Accident, Fear of Amputation, Volleyball Player Set up to Get Back On Court

By In the Loop

jessicanelson805Jessica Nelson doesn’t remember much about the automobile accident that nearly took her life on July 8, 2014. But she does remember one of the first things Mayo Clinic orthopedic trauma surgeon Stephen (Andy) Sems, M.D., told her: competitive sports likely weren’t going to be a part of her future. “That was hard for me to hear,” Jessica tells us.

ABC 6 News reports that Jessica had come to Mayo Clinic’s Rochester campus after her care team in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, told her amputation might be the only treatment option for the infection she’d developed in her right leg, which was broken in the car accident. “The infection ate away 3 1/2 inches of my bone,” Jessica tells us.

At Mayo, Jessica says Dr. Sems gave her alternative options to save her leg, but she’d have to consider not being able to return to her favorite sport. “Before my accident, I put volleyball first in my life,” Jessica, now a freshman at Rochester Community and Technical College, says in this story on the school’s website. 

Jessica knew she had to do whatever was necessary to save her leg. She tells us the treatment option she ultimately chose was the use of a Taylor spatial frame to help “pull down” and lengthen her leg bone. If that sounds painful, that’s because it is. “I had to adjust the pins on the frame three times a day while new bone grew,” she tells us of the 13-month lengthening process. “The pain of doing that was excruciating.”

Jessica says the pain medications given to her by her care team at Mayo helped “for a while,” but over time her body became immune to them. Jessica tells us she made it through the rest of her bone lengthening process by relying heavily on both her faith and her care team at Mayo Clinic. “My care team was amazing,” she says. “I never once felt like I was just their patient. I also felt like I was a real person to them, and that was huge for me.”

Also huge for Jessica were the words that Dr. Sems said to her during their last follow-up appointment in February 2016. “He’d taken X-rays of my leg, and at the end of the appointment, he told me that I was cleared to play sports again,” Jessica tells us. The X-rays had shown that Jessica’s leg “had grown stronger and better than expected,” she says. “That was absolutely crazy for me to hear.”

Perhaps even crazier is that today Jessica is a starting member of her college’s women’s volleyball team. “It’s absolutely a miracle,” she tells us. “The fact that I’m not only able to walk again but able play sports again after an accident like this is amazing. Mayo Clinic did a wonderful job in getting me to this point, and I really can’t ever thank them enough.”

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Tags: Dr. Andy Sems, Limb Lengthening, Patient Stories, Taylor Spatial Frame

I’ve known Jessie for many years and when I knew she was coming to Mayo for care I knew she was in good hands. I also watched Jessie’s faith grow during this troubled time and knew God was on her side. They say Mayo Clinic works miracles and it’s through our faith in God that they are able too. They have saved my father 3 times and now a 4th from cancer. Thank you Jesus and thank you Mayo Clinic!

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