LANCASTER, Ohio (WCMH) — From the second Jaysen Justice could walk, he was on the go.
“Up to 17 months, he was very healthy,” said Jaysen’s dad, Scot. “He ran everywhere. He was constantly outside playing. And to go from that to not being able to walk at all and being told that potentially he would never walk again was very difficult.”
It all started with a flu shot when Jaysen was 17 months old. Five days later, he’d lost all feeling and usage of his right leg. Doctors couldn’t give a definitive answer to what was wrong.
He did walk again, but his right leg never grew at the same pace as his left.
“His left foot was about a size 11, but his right foot was about a size three,” Scot said.
Twelve years later, at a specialized hospital in Manhattan, the Justice family got a diagnosis: Jaysen had a chemical spinal cord injury related to the influenza vaccine.
Months later, Jaysen developed a dream. He was not going to let his leg stop him.
“He came to me in seventh grade and told me he wanted to run track,” Scot said.
His preferred event — high jumping.
“[I chose] high-jumping because of how strong I am in the left [leg],” Jaysen said. “It was just something I kind of fell in love with.”
Jaysen didn’t know at the time, but his father had also been a high jumper in high school. He was worried high jumping wouldn’t be possible for his son.
“I’ve never told him this but it made my heart drop because I pictured him on the track,” Scot said. “But I told him he could do it!”
Jaysen was able to follow his dream, even as his right leg continued to deteriorate.
“I went through three different surgeries and came back out each track season,” Jaysen said.
But in February 2020, at 15 years old, Jaysen fractured the femur in his right leg at a track meet. For some, it would have been a crushing blow to a track career. For Jaysen, it was a chance at a new life.
“I made the decision to amputate [the leg],” he said simply.
Jaysen actually asked the doctor if he could amputate the leg before it was even presented as an option. The choice was much harder for his parents to accept.
“We felt like a little bit of a failure as parents,” Jaysen’s mom, Amanda, said through tears. “We failed him because we got to this point . . . this was not what we envisioned for his future.”
Looking back on that day, Scot and Amanda know that decision gave their son a better future.
“Jaysen was like, ‘You know what, can we just cut it off and move on with life?’” Amanda said with a laugh. “He’s always [saying], ‘OK I can’t do this the same way as everybody else, but I’m going to figure it out and I’m not going to complain about it.'”
Jaysen had his leg amputated in July 2020. By December, he had his prosthetic and started to get used to it. It was the fifth time in his 17 years of life he had to relearn how to walk. By January, Jaysen returned to the track.
“It was my number one goal going into the surgery. I told them I had to be back out for the indoor track season,” Jaysen said. “It took me about a week — because of the way I functioned already — I was basically in a prosthetic state of working it, so it wasn’t much different to me.”
This spring, less than two years after the surgery, Jaysen celebrated tying his high jump personal record from before the amputation of 5 feet, 6 inches.
“I don’t have the pain I didn’t realize I even had. I’m jumping better, in my opinion,” he said. “Don’t give up on your dreams. It’s something I haven’t given up on and it’s something everybody can achieve . . . just do what you love.”