Connor Alter looks like your typical, seventh-grade basketball player, full of energy and pep on the court for Princeton Logan Junior High.
Just eight months ago that scenario would not have been likely.
On Easter Sunday of this year, April 4, the Alters spent most of the day with their cousins at their grandparents house in Princeton. They later retreated back to the Alter’s to wind down after being on good behavior, according to Connor’s dad, Jay, and took a ride on their family’s Kawasaki Mule.
Minutes into the ride, disaster struck.
The Mule flipped, and the boys on the back were able to bail out to safety. Connor unsuccessfully tried to put his right foot out to try to keep the Mule upright, and it landed on top of his little cousin, Jordan Reinhardt, 4. Jordan’s brother, Jake, 14, and Connor immediately sprung into action and pulled the Mule off the little boy, while Jamie Reinhardt, 8, pulled Jordan out from underneath the vehicle, their quick actions potentially saving the boy’s life, at the very least from sustaining more serious injuries.
Connor’s right foot, however, was a mangled mess, crushed by the ATV and nearly severed, imbedded with grass and dirt. Somehow he managed to lift the ATV on one foot, which he now attributes to pure adrenaline.
Jay Alter knew his son’s foot was in bad shape the moment he saw it, reinforced by the look on the face of first responder Chuck Woolley. Jay remembers Connor telling him, “Dad, I’m not going to be able to play travel baseball because my foot is going to fall off.”
Jordan began to develop breathing complications and was diagnosed at the hospital with broken ribs and a punctured lung. Woolley had already called for a Life Flight helicopter at the scene of the accident for Connor, and Jordan would soon follow.
Jennifer and Jay Alter raced behind them on Route 26. They received a grim diagnosis of their eldest son’s condition and signed off on the documents for amputation as their son was taken into emergency surgery.
The Alters prayed for the best, but were prepared for the worst. The trauma surgeon said it was one of the dirtiest injuries he’s ever seen with debris all the way up to his knee. Infection post-surgery was a big concern.
Jay knew it could have been much, much worse.
“I have always been an optimist – maybe to a fault. After signing the documents to amputate his foot, I can remember not caring one way or the other because I tend not to waste my energy on things that I have zero control over,” said Jay, who was in the hospital with his son the very next day after the accident when he received a phone call from his mother that his father, Tim, had unexpectedly passed away.
“Many people lead very normal lives with prosthetics. I do, in fact, remember thanking God that he was alive. There are many people that wish their child had a prosthetic opposed to the worst case scenario.
Connor, 12, was aware he nearly lost his foot and said he would have got used to it had it happened. He said he’s lucky to have kept the foot and that a lot of people have told him it was a miracle he did. He also knows the many people praying for him and his recovery as well as Jordan’s.
“I do not know what defines a miracle, and I most certainly have no idea how much praying was done or by whom and to what individual extent. I do believe that all happens in accordance to His good and perfect will,” said John Reinhardt, Jordan’s father and Connor’s uncle.
Jordan recovered fully and Connor’s well on the road to recovery, his physical therapy complete and two surgeries behind him. They have been referred to a pediatric orthopedic surgeon to watch him for long term effects of the injury.
Connor made it back to play the last three football games in JFL this fall and took the court for the Lions on the first game of the season in October.
“I’m happy I can play sports,” he said, adding he does have to take pain medicine.
“Before the surgeon took him into surgery, his words were that he wasn’t sure he would be able to save the foot and if he did he would most likely never regain the mobility and be able to play sports to his fullest potential,”Jennifer Alter said. “Those words haven’t left my mind but every time I see him on the court or briefly this year on the football field. It’s a great and thankful feeling.”
Jay Alter, who was a member of the 1989 Princeton state runner-up football team, never doubted his son would play again, but admitted he didn’t know to what level.
“To be honest, I still don’t know what level,” he said. “He is not the same athlete he was prior to the injury. I’m certainly OK with that. Prior to the injury, I knew that his life’s paychecks were not going to be disbursed from any pro payroll. He will be a better person for going what he has gone through.”
Connor is much appreciative of the support he received both spiritually and physically. His friends rallied behind him, coming to visit him at the hospital, pushing his wheelchair and carrying his book bag at school.
Jen Alter said her family and the Reinhardts couldn’t have made it without all the support from the Princeton community.
On Monday, he scored 11 point to lead the Logan seventh-grade B team to a 39-16 win over Amboy. He also had four points in the A game.
Connor is an inspiration to adults and youth alike. You roll with the punches and sometimes you gotta punch back. Connor, you make us all proud.
Kevin Hieronymus is the BCR Sports Editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org