Josef Marchuetz was a sophomore linebacker at Hillsborough High School when he severely fractured his femur during a JV football game after getting hit hard from the side.
"I went blank for about three seconds and I fell back to the ground," he says. "I remember my leg just kept bending backwards to about a 45-degree angle. I instinctively tried to pull it back around and straighten it, but when I tried to lift it, my leg bent, not at the knee, but at my mid-thigh. Then the pain kicked in."
Forty minutes later, paramedics arrived at the field and Josef was taken by ambulance to St. Louis Children's Hospital. At the hospital, x-rays revealed the fracture was a jagged break, which would lead the teen to a long recovery.
"Femur fracture are a big injury," says orthopedic surgeon Jeffrey Nepple, MD, a sports medicine specialist and Director of the Young Athlete Center at St. Louis Children's Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine. "We see these types of injuries from ATV or car accidents, but less often in high school sports."
To repair damage, Nepple inserted a titanium rod and screws to re-align the bone and allow it to heal. He also understood Josef's desire to get back to high-level sports. "When we work with young athletes, aggressive rehabilitation plays a major role in maximizing their recovery," says Nepple. "Many of our high school athletes are as determined as professional athletes to get back on the field."
In the first month of rehabilitation, Josef had to re-learn how to stand and walk without a limp. His mother, who would spend hours holding Josef's leg in place so that he could fall asleep for a few hours, says, "The hardest part was wondering if he could ever be athletic again. He got depressed thinking about it for a while."
However, with the help of Dr. Nepple and the rehabilitation team at St. Louis Children's Hospital, Josef returned to sports stronger than ever.
In March, Josef joined the track team, competing in both the 200-meter and 400-meter dash as well as the 4x4 relay. Now in regular football practices preparing for the upcoming season as a junior on the varsity team, Josef looks back at his on-field collision and injury as just a "bump in the road." With a solidly healed fracture, Nepple expects Josef to make a full recovery. "He should be as strong as he's ever been," adds Nepple.
His mother says with a laugh, "He's bionic compared to what he was before and we just don't dwell on his accident every day. Will I be nervous when he's back on the field? Of course! But he's worked hard. I think it's a testament to both the skill of his doctor and Josef's own determination that he can run track and play football again."