To hear 15-year-old Sam Grewe talk about his first freshman basketball season, training for lacrosse and learning how to drive, it’s hard to believe just a year ago, the standout student athlete was learning how to walk again after losing much of his right leg to bone cancer.
Sam was 13 when a pain in his leg led to an unexpected diagnosis: osteosarcoma. The rare, aggressive form of bone cancer would require months of chemotherapy and a partial amputation.
The Grewe family made the drive from their small town of Middlebury in northern Indiana to meet with Dr. Lawrence D. Wurtz, an osteo-oncologist at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health.
The family originally intended to take the traditional route of having the tumorous part of Sam’s legs replaced with rods. But then they read about rotationplasty, an operation in which the leg below the tumor is rotated and reattached so the ankle functions as a knee joint, allowing the patient to run and jump with a prosthetic.
“Sam said, ‘I want the rotationplasty. I want to continue playing sports,’” mom Michelle recalls. “We asked Dr. Wurtz, ‘Is Sam a candidate for this?’ His face just lit up, and he said, ‘Oh yeah! We can do this!’”
The community rallied in support of Sam. He was even “adopted” by the Notre Dame football team, which invited him to hang out with players and watch from the sidelines every game of their undefeated season.
After finishing chemotherapy last February, Sam missed the high school football season, but he made his school basketball team this winter and put his new leg through its paces.
“It was exciting to see him come back with his prosthetic, even though he knows what it was like before,” Michelle said. “With Sam, he is just so happy to be playing again.”
Now Sam wants to learn how to ski and plans to try lacrosse in the spring.
“It’s awesome. It’s great to be back,” he said. “You just have to stick with it.”