Grateful for 2nd chance: Once facing amputation, volleyball player recovers to play again

By Zachary Deppa 

Sports Editor


Two years after a near-fatal car accident, Jessica Nelson was named Minnesota College Athletic Conference Hitter of the Week on Oct. 4. (Echo Photo by Lydia Smith)

Volleyball player Jessica Nelson has an incredible story as she did the unthinkable. Her story is a true testament of what happens if you have faith, courage and determination.

Jessica Nelson was injured in a car accident in July 2014 in Tracy, Minnesota, where her car rolled several times into a field and crushed her legs. Jessica was found by a farmer within minutes, which saved her life. She suffered compound fractures in her leg, but the other injuries she suffered were a broken hip, punctured lung, a facial fracture, hematoma in her eyes and a concussion.

She was rushed to a hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. After 18 days in the hospital Jessica was able to go home. Over the next few months she went in for checkup appointments until in September they discovered an infection. After several attempts with antibiotics and surgeries, amputation became that the only option at Sioux Falls, but she was given the choice to go to Mayo Clinic in Rochester for a second opinion.

She faced a choice to either amputate her leg or try a treatment using a Taylor spatial frame. The device is a cage around the leg that is screwed through the bone and is used to stretch the bone to replace a missing segment. She decided to keep her leg. The surgery successfully removed the infection, but it had eaten away three and a half inches of  bone. Once doctors discovered how much damage the infection had done, she was told she would never play sports again.

“I lived for sports,” Nelson said. “I had spent my time, money and future into sports.”

The spatial frame was installed and she went through a painstaking process that would take more than a year to complete. Every day she would need to have screws turned three times a day.

“For every one day that I had to do this I had would have to wear it for three days to make sure that the bone grew and consolidated properly,” Nelson said.

The goal was to grow one millimeter a day. After having finished the process of stretching the leg she would need to keep the apparatus on her leg for another nine months.

At the end of one of her last appointments and having the apparatus removed, her doctor told her she could play sports again. She was shocked. Over the last year she had no hope of returning to sports, which she absolutely loved and lived for.

Shortly after this appointment she toured the RCTC campus and the athletic center, where she met with volleyball coach Amber Zitzow. She signed in April to play at RCTC.

“It was tough starting out because of how long it had been since I had played or been able to do anything physical wise,” Nelson said. “I had a lot of muscle atrophy from my accident as well, but I worked through it.”

Starting sports again was a huge challenge. She not only had new limitations on her leg, but it had been two years since she had been able to do much physically. She worked hard, and it did not come easy. Now, all the work and pain she went through has finally paid off as she is now the front-right starter. Jessica loves her team and has loved playing sports again. She is an amazing inspiration and a truly fantastic person to be around despite all the struggles she has been through.


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