Jack was playing in a soccer game at 8 a.m. March 20 when he was kneed in the side of the thigh while going after a ball. His initial thought was that he just had a bruise and that he would be able to walk it off. He continued playing for the remaining 10 minutes of the game. After the game, Jack went home, but the pain hadn’t gone away. Around lunchtime, he looked down at his leg and noticed that it had started to swell, discolor and become hard.
“It was easily the worst pain I have ever felt,” Jack said. “It was whole bunch of pressure and it felt like it was pushing out. There was no room for anything left to swell.”
Jack’s dad took him to the urgent care center at Children’s Mercy South hospital in Overland Park where he sat in the waiting room for two hours. When a doctor finally saw him, Jack was told that the eight-hour window for muscles to survive an injury like his was almost over. He was then sent to the Truman Hospital in downtown Kansas City where he was rushed into surgery.
Jack was suffering from faciitis and compartment syndrome. According to Dr. Julia Ehly, faciitis is an inflammation of the fascia, the layer of tissue that covers the muscles. A compartments is a group of muscles or organs. After a collision such as Jack’s, blood gathers in the compartment and causes extreme pressure on the fascia. When the pressure becomes too high, blood flow to the tissue and compartment is restricted. Compartment syndrome occurs when there is no more room for swelling or blood in the compartment. If the damage is not treated quickly enough, it can result in the death of the muscles. Repairing the dead muscles would have require removing muscles from his butt and putting them in his leg. To repair the injury, the patient must have a fasciotomy, a procedure in which the fascia is cut to relieve the pressure.
“I thought it was just another normal injury, and next thing I know I wake up in the hospital and have this huge vacuum on my leg to get the blood out,” Jack said.
Jack considers himself lucky. If he would have waited until the next morning to go to the hospital, they wouldn’t have been able to save his leg. He would never have been able to run, or play soccer, again.
Dr. Ehly said that while the injury is not common, it is not unheard of in elite athletes and most are able to make a full recovery.
According to varsity soccer coach Jamie Kelly, if Jack was unable to play again, the team would be losing a great teammate, and valuable experience. The team is losing 17 seniors this year and will have to rebuild next season. Jack is one of only five returners with varsity experience.
Kelly’s first thought about Jack was that he hoped the injury wouldn’t prevent him from doing what he loves. He sees how much Jack loves soccer and how dedicated he is to getting better. After high school, Jack hopes to play in college.
“You feel for someone like that who gets injuries like that because you never know if it brings their spirits down,” Kelly said. “You hope it doesn’t.”
Sophomore Clint Dunn, who is a club teammate of Jack’s and was at the game when he got hurt, said that he was surprised when Jack told him about the severity of the injury. According to Dunn, this wasn’t Jack’s first serious injury. He didn’t see the collision and the team didn’t think much of it. Despite the injury, Dunn is confident that Jack will recover and play again.
“He’s going to play,” Dunn said. “He’s going to be an important part of the team and it would be big loss if he couldn’t play.”
Jack started the recovery process the week after he got out of the hospital. Twice a week, Jack attends physical therapy at Sport+Spine Therapy. During therapy, Jack and his trainer focus on stretching and regaining mobility. Having lost circulation for five hours, the muscles are very stiff. They also do some weight bearing activities to help him get back to walking soon. Jack said that the process is very painful due to nerve damage and scar tissue in the area.
“The pain is just continuous,” Jack said.
Jack’s brother, senior Joe Sernett, said that he sees frustration in his brother about needing people to do things for him. If he wants to move from one place to another, someone has to move his things for him. According to Joe, Jack is able to get around the house and go up and down the stairs on his own. It still takes him a while, but at first he wasn’t even able to get up on his own once he sat down.
Since starting physical therapy, Jack’s flexibility has improved. For the first couple of weeks after the surgery, he could barely bend his leg. He is now able to walk on one crutch and has more strength. The pain has also become more manageable. He is now taking Ibuprofen instead of prescribed pain medication.
Looking forward, Jack is nervous to start playing again. His biggest worry is that he will get re-injured, or experience frequent pain.
“I haven’t been pain free since the surgery and I don’t know if I ever will be. I will always think twice about it whenever I get hit.”