A lesson in hope: New Lenox boy, 3, on mend after losing foot
BY DONNA VICKROY email@example.com June 19, 2014 5:50PM
Owen Wills, 3, (left) with his mother, Carrie and older brother Liam, 6, at the Wills home, Thursday, June 19th, 2014, in New Lennox. | Gary Middendorf/for Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 21, 2014 4:08PM
On the drive home from the hospital after his long, painful, 28-day stay, little Owen Wills sat speechless in his car seat, staring out the window.
“It was as if he was seeing the world for the first time,” his dad, Kevin Wills, said. “That’s when I realized he was. We all were seeing life through a new lens.”
But while Kevin and his wife, Carrie, of New Lenox, wrestled with the notion that life would be forever different, it was 3-year-old Owen who made it clear that each day still would be met with gusto.
Owen not only has survived a catastrophic accident, he emerged from the hospital a new boy.
“He was a little speech-delayed before the accident,” Kevin said. “Maybe it was spending so many days in the hospital, I’m not sure, but he came out completely outgoing.”
He has gone back to preschool and back to playing — with abandon.
“He’s resilient; he’s a fighter. It’s as if he doesn’t know what he’s not supposed to be able to do,” Kevin said. “And nothing is going to stop him from being 3.”
Not even the loss of his right foot.
Owen was closing in on his third birthday on Oct. 1 when the unthinkable happened: a riding lawn mower backed over him. He suffered severe injuries to both legs.
En route to Silver Cross Hospital, emergency personnel were on the phone with Lifestar Emergency Medical Services, which simultaneously was making arrangements to airlift Owen to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Kevin said.
Less than an hour after his arrival at Silver Cross, Owen was on his way to the Level 1 trauma center.
Over the next seven days, Owen would undergo three surgeries, one of them a Syme’s amputation. He lost most of his right foot. He also endured reconstructive surgery and a skin graft on his left leg. Subsequently, he had to be sedated for cast and dressing changes.
As difficult as it was for Owen to deal with the procedures and the fact that he had to lie on his side for two weeks straight, Kevin believes the biggest challenge for Owen was being separated from his big brother, Liam. Luckily, a generous family member bought Owen an iPad, enabling the boys to Skype.
“It was hard on everyone,” said Kevin, a vice president for PNC Bank. “I don’t think all four of us were together once in that 28-day period.”
Owen was discharged from the hospital in time to celebrate his third birthday.
He received his prosthesis on Dec. 13 and was not happy about it.
Patty McQuinn, a pediatric physical therapist with Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago at Silver Cross Hospital, recalled the first time he came to see her. He was very shy about letting her see his leg, even more so about putting on the prosthesis. She suggested to Carrie that she casually put the device on him for short periods of time while he was watching TV.
That seemed to work because the next time she saw him after Christmas break, McQuinn said, he’d done a complete 180.
“He’s now one of the happier kids I work with. That’s a tribute to his family,” she said. “It shows they’re coping, they’re doing well. They’re active and involved.”
McQuinn said it’s as if Owen wants to push himself.
“He has this amazing knack for upgrading an activity to something even more challenging. He’ll say, ‘How about if we do ...’ this or that,” she said.
“You’d never know by looking at him that he’s got an amputated foot,” McQuinn said. “He’s very close to functioning at the same level of other children his age.”
McQuinn said Owen loves the play aspect of his therapy. His favorite activities are a Batman game in which he is suspended on a trapeze and has to kick with both legs at bolsters, and a game called Mush Dog, in which he acts like a sled dog and pulls her around the room.
Kevin said the convenient location of RIC at Silver Cross enables the family to maintain a somewhat normal life. Owen plays in the Little Sluggers T-ball league and Kevin took both boys golfing on Father’s Day.
“One of the best things for Owen has been Liam. He’s been phenomenal,” Kevin said.
If Kevin and Carrie Wills have learned one thing, it is that even in the darkest moments, there is light. Even in times of great suffering and profound sadness, there is comfort, and there are small victories to be celebrated.
“It is tough to see your kid in that much pain,” Kevin said.
But as doctors were discussing the kind of amputation Owen would need, Kevin realized things could have turned out much worse.
Even a Lifestar nurse to whom Kevin sends photo updates tells him how grateful she is to see his son’s progress.
“She said she is thrilled because ‘Most of our stories don’t end this way,’ ” he said.
Kevin said during the ordeal, friends and family brought them dinners almost daily for months. People they’d never met sent cards, some containing checks. And 370 people participated on Owen’s team in the Loyola University Medical Center Health, Hope and Heroes 5K Walk/Run to benefit the Ronald McDonald Children’s Hospital earlier this month.
“I can’t help but see there is a lot of good in the world,” he said. “People are just incredible. That’s how we made it through.”
For more information about RIC at Silver Cross, call (815) 340-7110 or visit www.silvercross.org. To learn more about Silver Cross Hospital or for a referral to a physician on staff, visit www.silvercross.org or call (888) 660-4325.