After an undiagnosed disease left 10-year-old Tyler Johnson near death in late June, he's now bravely coping with the loss of both feet and the fingers of his right hand, which were amputated this week.
"The cool thing is he can be any height he wants to be," with the use of prosthetic feet designed specifically for Tyler, his mother, Shara Johnson, said Thursday. "The bad thing is that his thumb is really short."
The community has contributed more than $10,000 for Tyler's medical expenses, during various recent fundraisers and events.
"This town has really come together to support Tyler," longtime family friend Eva Dworakowski said Thursday. "It's been phenomenal."
Tyler was airlifted from Yampa Valley Medical Center to The Children's Hospital in Denver on June 24 after doctors were unable to determine the cause of his condition. Tyler had a temperature of 103.7 degrees, had been vomiting for more than 24 hours and had developed a rash on his feet that indicated blood infection.
Medical staff told Johnson the disease commonly associated with Tyler's symptoms is a form of meningitis called meningococcal disease. Meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection in the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
Tyler had his first surgery Saturday. Johnson said doctors were originally not planning to amputate, just to remove dead tissue and evaluate which parts of his feet and right hand could be salvaged. But once they began surgery, they decided to remove his entire left foot - just above the ankle - and all of the toes on his right foot. The fingers on his right hand were removed just above the second knuckle.
Tyler's second surgery took place Wednesday, and doctors removed his right foot just above the ankle. They were able to save his heels and positioned them so that they will cushion the bottom of his legs in prosthetics.
"It'll be like he's walking around on stilts," Johnson said. "He'll be able to walk without prosthetics if he wants to."
While Tyler was recovering from surgery in Denver, his wrestling team, the Yampa Valley Wrestling Club, hosted a fundraising lunch in Steamboat and collected more than $2,000 to help with Tyler's medical expenses.
"There was so much support from the community," said Forest Yager, whose son wrestles on the team with Tyler. "We probably gave out around 250 to 300 hot dogs."
Doctors told Johnson that she and Tyler possibly could check out of the hospital as early as Sunday, depending on how Tyler is handling the pain. At the moment, Johnson said the pain is unbearable - Tyler could be heard crying in the background as Johnson spoke those words Thursday.
Tyler will be fitted for prosthetics in four weeks, Johnson said. He should have them in about six weeks. He and his 8-year-old sister, Tehya, have big plans to ski and snowboard this winter - an activity doctors told Johnson will be good for Tyler.
"We're just taking it one day at a time," Johnson said, adding that she is grateful for all the community support.
An additional amount of about $8,000 also has been raised recently, Dworakowski said Thursday. Dworakowski collected $4,000 in donations at the Michael Franti concert July 18 at Howelsen Hill, and another $4,000 was donated to an account in Tyler's name at Vectra Bank.
Yager said an additional $200 was donated during a recent wrestling camp, where Olympic gold medalist Rulon Gardner worked with young local wrestlers. Gardner, who lost a toe to frostbite after a snowmobile accident, spoke with Tyler over the phone for about 10 minutes Wednesday, giving him encouragement and letting him know what a tough kid he was, Johnson said.
Yager said Tyler's 4-H Club is in the primary stages of planning a fundraiser and that details will be available soon.
"He's very near and dear to our hearts," Yager said. "We're doing whatever we can to help."