MEAD, Colorado — In Mead, a junior varsity football game at 4 p.m. on a Monday fills the stands. Parents, grandparents and siblings stomp on the bleachers, making their presence known. It's an early November afternoon and the first cold game of the season. The team is losing, but everyone starts to smile as they watch #31, Beckett Reiff, take the field.
Reiff looks a little different than the rest of the players. Underneath the padding, his frame is small, but the kid has spunk. He sets up on the line as a defensive player. The ball snaps and he charges through the chaos, his eyes on the target. There's no way he can't hear the crowd roaring.
Hard to believe he was hours away from death 11 months ago.
Quinton and Julie Reiff struggle to remember all the important dates in December, because every day felt like life or death for their then 14-year-old son, Beckett. But Dec. 5 is a day they wish they had back. It was the day Beckett began to feel sick.
"You like to think you’re dealing with time. You've got none," Quinton said. "Man, if we could rewrite this story and be at the hospital on Monday, we could have used those hours."
Beckett seemed to have the flu. Quinton and Julie decided to make a bed for him in the bathroom and ride out the night.
"By 6 a.m. it was so evident that the world had changed, I mean radically," Quinton recalled. "[Beckett] was not present in his eyes. He didn’t know where he was. The bathroom was a mess. I picked him up as fast as I could, got him in the shower with myself, cleaned him up and I carried him to my truck and off to the emergency room we went."
As soon as they arrived to the emergency room, Quinton knew something was terribly wrong. Doctors surrounded Beckett. The energy in the room was urgent.
"That intensity level, it never got less. It just kept increasing. So as much I didn’t want to stare and focus and realize the dire situation we were in, every hour, every minute it became more that we were dealing with death, and I couldn’t believe it," Quinton said.
Beckett was rushed to Children's Hospital Colorado in Aurora. Dr. Jenny Zablah was one of the first physicians to see him.
"He was pretty critical, so I received a call that he may need support," Zablah said. "He had not just the flu but also bacterial overinfection in the blood. That's why he was so sick."
Quinton said doctors told them Beckett's heart was failing, he had pneumonia, his lungs were failing and his kidneys were failing.
"It was such an avalanche of the most unreal information," he said.
Days after Beckett was admitted, the news got worse. Bad bacteria made it to his leg. While Beckett was on the operating table, doctors connected with his parents to share the news.
"We realized if we didn't do something about it his life was threatened," Zablah said. "The three of us went to talk to Julie, his mom, and explain what was going on and that we needed to amputate. "
Julie was beside herself. It was a decision she could not fathom making. Neither could Quinton.
"I remember the orthopedic surgeon who was in the cath lab asking, I need your permission to do this," Quinton said through tears. "It will forever haunt me. It was the hardest thing to ever choose. It felt like I was butchering my son. "
The decision ripped the Reiff family apart, but it kept Beckett together -- at least for a few days. The following week, doctors called Quinton and Julie back into a room with a pile of paperwork to fill out.
"That's when they told us he was going into liver failure and if his numbers do not improve, we will lose him in six hours," Quinton said.
The football player needed a Hail Mary. It came from a doctor who suggested one final procedure. Quinton remembered some of the doctors not convinced it would even help.
"I remember saying 'let's do it.' I mean, at this point I was like 'Why are we here? Go! He's dying. Don't tell me I have six more hours with my son. Let's go,'" he said.
"Our friends up here in the Mead area, James and Alicia Patterson, started organizing a prayer vigil," Julie remembered. "Two-hundred people showed up with two hours notice. And then they did another one the next night. About 200 people showed up again. And between those two prayer vigils, the numbers just slowly started improving the next few days."
Days turned into weeks. Beckett was eventually healthy enough to be taken off of sedation and hear how his family chose life over limb.
"He was listening. He was listening very intently. That's when he looked at Julie and I, didn't say a single word except 'thank you,'" Quinton said.
"The only thing I remember is my dad showing me my new snowmobile," Beckett said with a laugh.
He doesn't recall a lot about that day. But his parents made a choice that inspired him.
"I just feel proud and I just want to be like them," he said.
If December taught Beckett anything, it's to cherish each moment. He was released from the hospital at the end of January. No one could wipe the smile off of Julie and Quinton's face that day. Their son was going home.
Hospital staff lined the hallways to applaud the 15-year-old as he was wheeled out of the hospital after 49 days. So much had changed in his life, but his family was just grateful he still had one.
"The full gambit of emotions. Of course excitement, happiness, elation. There’s fear, too," Quinton said that cool crisp January day. "New chapter getting ready to start at home. We’re excited for it. Just going to take it one step at a time and he’s going to set the cadence, the pace for the house, and one day at a time."
"I’m feeling great," Beckett chimed in at the hospital. "Once I get my prosthetic and stuff, hopefully I can get back to some rugby."
Three months after that moment outside of Children's, a goal became reality. Beckett was being fitted for his prosthetic. The doctor was late. Beckett was antsy, excited for this new chapter in life.
So many steps go into putting on a prosthetic leg, but Beckett made the process look easy. As his doctors adjusted, he paced the hallways.
Beckett only had little words, but the moment was big for him.
"Good. Feels nice," he said.
"See, I told you it was going to be good," he added to calm his father's fears.
Quinton, who often did all the talking, didn't need many words for this moment.
"Love it," he said repeatedly as he hugged his son.
As they walked out of the hospital into the parking lot, Beckett asked if he could go to the gym.
By August, the gym was the least challenging place Beckett wanted to venture to. The teenager spent his summers on the water, and this year would not be any different. Beckett quickly figured out a way to water ski with his prosthetic. His dad was behind the wheel.
"He doesn’t like the words 'wait' or 'hold on,' I’ll tell you that much," his dad said as Beckett trailed behind on skis. "He just wants to keep on keeping on."
Beckett went out on the water more than a handful of times this summer. He said the adaptation was easy. For Quinton, it was emotional.
"Every single time, I smile, I smile, I smile and at the same time I want to cry," Quinton said. "He has adapted to this so much better than I have. But it's getting better every day, and he's way ahead of the curve."
Beckett was able to stay ahead of the curve in school as well. The now-sophomore has maintained a 4.3 GPA. His health teacher and coach, Jason Klatt, still remains blown away by how quickly he recovered.
"It is amazing to watch," Klatt said. "He’s one of the smartest football players we have. He’s got really, really good grades. He always gets his work in."
Beckett has never hesitated to pick up where he has left off. In his health class he remained engaged, answering questions about drug overdoses and the chemicals released when someone feels a rush.
"I have at times pulled our team together and talked about his resilience, his fight, his attitude and the fact that we’re not guaranteed tomorrow, and Beckett is that reminder for me," Klatt said.
It's a reminder that can be found physically as well. #BeckettStrong was printed on t-shirts at homecoming games.
"It’s a present-day miracle of a kid that was on the doorstep of not being any more to being a living example of how we can behave every day," Klatt said.
As the calendar pages turn, Beckett's attitude does not. By November, he's regularly running drives at junior varsity football games. His parents are in the stands, making their presence known with whistles and cheers as their friends continue to compliment that player who once had hours to live.
"I mean, where he was in December to now, it’s like unreal," one friend told Quinton in the stands.
"Fortunate beyond belief," Quinton replied.
Beckett may not have much to say, but he has a lot to show. He dreams of being an engineer one day and getting back on to the rugby pitch. He's looking to learn to downhill ski this year, all while training to hopefully be a starter on next year's football team.
On this particular chilly November afternoon, he set his eyes on his target. While his parents held their breath in the stands, he charged at the opposing team's quarterback to assist with a sack. Beckett proved he won't live life on the sidelines.
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