Goss: Plainfield East’s Kyle Uminski doesn’t let injury that led to amputation keep him down
By Dick Goss firstname.lastname@example.org October 27, 2013 9:16PM
Plainfield East's Kyle Uminski (left), with East football coach Mike Romeli. | Dick Goss/Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 1, 2013 6:50AM
Plainfield East’s Uminski a complete human being
Plainfield East will make its first playoff appearance Friday when the Bengals visit Lincoln-Way East in the Class 7A opening round.
Kyle Uminski says he could not be prouder of his teammates. It comes straight from the heart.
A few minutes with the East junior is all you need to understand the person he is. His handling of life’s cruel, blind-side hit, and his will to stride forward, is remarkable.
Once a potential Division I offensive lineman, Uminski had his left leg amputated below the knee Aug. 19. That ended a 13-month, 14-surgery saga.
East coach Mike Romeli promoted Uminski, then a 285-pound sophomore and possessor of freshman school weightlifting records, to starting varsity guard. On the last play of a July 12, 2012 summer scrimmage — the date is in permanent memory — a back running behind Uminski was tackled and fell on his leg.
“My ankle was dislocated and it destroyed the fibula,” he said. “My ankle was facing left.”
Everything was fine, however. Uminski would have surgery, return to normal in six weeks and play by midseason.
“But August came and I was still in pain,” he said. “My ankle had two huge wounds. I was told I had a staph infection. Two surgeries didn’t work, including flap surgery where they took tissue from my left abdomen to cover the wounds.
“On Sept. 10, another doctor said I had a bone infection on top of the staph infection. He took tissue from my calf and placed it in the side of my ankle. My ankle at the end of 2012 looked like Frankenstein’s foot.”
Uminski always had faith God would help him return to the field. But after the second flap surgery, he began thinking playing football was not the be-all and end-all.
“I think because I had my mom (Maria) and dad (Martin) next to me every step of the way, that’s why I accepted that my football career was over,” he said.
Uminski saw an orthopedic surgeon in January. When the cast was removed, fluid oozed. “He put on another cast. When he took it off, he said it looked like I had a tumor on my ankle,” he said.
Another surgeon tried a halo-like external fixator, fusing bones. Uminski next went to Mayo Clinic and was given two options — keep the fixator, take pills and live with infection, or amputation.
He felt his parents “did not want to deal with me without a limb,” so more fixator. But when his mom touched the ankle with a Q-tip in July, fluid again oozed.
“I had 13 surgeries by then, I was tired and my original doctor said he was appalled and didn’t know what to do for me,” he said.
Uminski visited a doctor at Loyola who performs amputations and had the lower leg removed Aug. 19.
“This allows me to do more than I was doing,” he said of the decision. “There are worse things, like people who do not have family.”
Uminski’s positive outlook is genuine. He wakes up daily thinking good, fun things can happen.
“No matter how negative a situation, you have to look for the positive,” he said.
He gave the Bengals an emotional talk Sept. 20 before their 21-15 victory over rival Plainfield North. A sign above the locker room door says, “Play for Kyle #76.”
“Coach Romeli told me I am a part of the team,” he said. About 15 teammates regularly brought him food, played “Madden” and just hung out on Thursday team dinner nights.
He is a different sort of MVP.
After being tutored at home for more than a year, Uminski returned to school two weeks ago. During that week, he received his prosthesis. Last week he walked halls and stairways without crutches.
He wants to attend Pittsburgh — his parents did — and work in the football program. They know his story at Pitt, but he takes nothing for granted. He is working hard to achieve that and all his goals. Don’t be surprised if runs that 5K, wrestles again or plays one more down.
The poster in his room reads: “Life does not get easier, you just get stronger.”