10-year-old boy who lost leg in boating accident reunites with hospital care team

AJ Oparah and his mother, Marla Smith, reunited with the care team at Regions Hospital and Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare that helped his after he lost his leg in a boating accident. (FOX 9)

The day AJ Oparah arrived to the emergency room at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, there were so many unknowns. But the one thing his mother said she knew is that he was going to be okay, in part because of the team that was surrounding him.

“Team AJ,” the group who cared for him during his stay at Regions and Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, reunited Tuesday to celebrate how far he’s come and the bright future ahead of him. 

The 10-year-old lost his right leg after a boating accident at the end of May, but the focus is on what he has - not what he doesn’t. That’s how AJ’s recovery began.

“I just told him the truth and the truth was you shall live and not die,” said Marla Smith, AJ’s mother. “The truth was you're going to be okay. And when they take you out of here you're going to see me again, do you believe me? He said, ‘Yes, mom.’”

It was game on. AJ took the lead to show hospital staff he was ready to roll with whatever came his way.

“He wasn’t crying, he wasn’t whining, he wasn’t complaining one bit,” said Dr. Andrew Hasebrook. “He was just going with it and I think for a young man that’s pretty brave that’s pretty tough.”

In no time, they were all believers.

“The first person that told me I was going to be okay was my mom and then it went over and over and over again with the staff,” said AJ.

Smith never even really told him he had lost his leg.

“We said, ‘AJ, you know what? You have a new ability. You’re going to use your body in ways you never thought you could and you’re going to be okay. You’ll walk again, you’ll run again. You’ll probably do taekwondo again, baseball, soccer’ - all those things he played and all those things he still can play,” she said.

In fact, when he grows up, AJ wants to be a professional football player or a police officer. For now, he’s just a kid with a few weeks of summer left to make up for lost time.

“I just want to spend the most time with my friends ‘cause I didn’t really get to spend time with my friends,” said AJ.

This story doesn’t have an ending yet, but with AJ’s amazing support system at the hospital and at home, it’s pretty clear how it’s going to all play out.

“I tell him we can’t control that this happened,” said Smith. “It is what it is. But what we can control is our attitude and how we deal with it.”

AJ will be fitted for his prosthetic in the next few weeks.