Boy who lost his legs has 'amazing' homecoming

Matt Buedel

When conversation turns to the Ruchotzke family, even among close friends, hushed tones flourish - not in the octave of dark secrets, but in humbled awe.

One word inevitably invades the discourse, not so much because it fits like no other, but because it's an adequate placeholder for something more emotional than can be easily described:


If you ask Greg and Angi Ruchotzke, the amazing part of their son's devastating illness and arduous recovery has been the community's response. An outpouring of support has flowed from the Farmington area and far beyond to help Josh relearn how to live without his limbs.

If you ask outside the family's Hanna City household, the Ruchotzkes' perseverance and, particularly, Josh's resilience grab the title "amazing" over and over again.

The eighth-grader at Farmington Central Junior High School came down with a severe strep A infection in late January and fought for his life for three weeks in a pediatric intensive care unit in Peoria.

During the battle, his body redirected blood flow to his vital organs to survive, at the expense of his extremities. Josh, an honor student and avid athlete, flew to a clinic in Denver, but even the specialists there weren't able to save his lower legs or most of his fingers.

He's been there ever since, undergoing multiple surgeries and slowly relearning how to function. Josh and his mom have had few breaks, but were able to come home for a few days this week to reconnect with family and friends who have only sporadically made it to Denver.

Seated at their kitchen table Saturday afternoon, in a brief moment of down time before Josh's baseball teammates came over for a cookout, Josh slipped off the gel lining for one of his prosthetic legs and crossed his legs at his knees, resting his stumps on the oak tabletop.

"Get your feet off the table," Angi said in a tone of mock indignation.

Josh, with a smile befitting adolescent mischief, retorted: "My feet aren't on the table."

That playful attitude pervades nearly every exchange between Josh and his parents, even through the most serious of discussions.

When they talk about his surgeries, Josh wonders why he wasn't able to keep his feet in a jar. For his next surgery, scheduled for June 10, Josh wants to do something different.

"I want to videotape it so I can see it," he said. "I want to see what's going on."

He should, after that surgery, have a better range of abilities. His right hand has been sewn to his abdomen to promote tissue growth for more than a week, and it will be cut free. His left leg, which has been too sensitive to work much with a prosthetic, will have bones fused and strengthened.

Josh takes it all head-on.

"At first I was nervous (about surgery)," he said. "But if it was going to make me better, I was willing to go through it."

There's two things Josh really wants: to get back home in time for school in the fall and to play sports again.

When his friends made it to the house Saturday, they gravitated to the basketball hoop outside. They shot around while Josh, in his wheelchair, fidgeted and looked on, surrounded by dads sipping beer.

Greg Ruchotzke ran his hands through his son's close-cropped hair.

"It won't be long, you'll be out banging heads again," he said.

Matt Buedel can be reached at (309) 686-3154 or