Yosemite High School JV football player Peter ‘PJ’ Kuzmitski, underwent surgery yesterday (Oct. 3) to amputate his right leg below the knee after a horrible injury during a Sept. 27 practice.
The injury occurred on the practice field at about 5 p.m., and coaches, sensing the seriousness of the injury to his right knee, immediately called 911 to send a ambulance to the school as quickly as possible.
Sierra Ambulance transported Kuzmitski to Valley Childrens Hospital where he was evaluated and quickly transferred to Fresno Regional Medical Center, one of the best trauma centers in the country.
After getting him stabilized, and doing all they could to minimize the damage done by the injury, surgeons performed a multi-hour vascular operation, however the injury was so catastrophic, the only course of action was a below the knee amputation of the right leg.
Peter is the son of Jake Kuzmitski and Suzy Kessler, and step-father Kevin Kessler, who have been by his side since the injury.
JV Coach Mike Gipson coached the 4-foot-11, 110 pound Kuzmitski in youth football and now at the high school.
“Peter was not gifted with being six-feet tall and able to run like the wind ... he has always been undersized, but his work ethic, enthusiasm and personality always seems to be a step above all the other guys,” Gipson said. “Because of his efforts he makes all his teammates around him play better. He’s a happy kid every day, and he makes everyone’s day better just being around him.”
Gipson visited Kuzmitski in the hospital the day after the injury.
“He told me to tell the team he was sorry he couldn’t be at the game Friday night,” Gipson said. “Not one mention of worrying about himself, and he’s confident he will be back. He has a ton of support from this community.”
Jeff Guynn, who along with his wife Anne, are members of the Badger Boosters, coached Peter while he wrestled for the Yosemite Badger Youth Wrestling team last year when he was an eighth grader at Rivergold Elementary in Coarsegold.
The Kuzmitski’s are close family friends with Jeff and Anne.
“Peter was the most coachable athlete I have ever had in youth wrestling,” Guynn said. “He always gave 150% effort. His spirit is so strong, this will not change who he is. It will be a long recovery, but knowing him, he’ll eventually will be back on the wrestling mat and on the football field. The day after the surgery, he was already on his computer looking up athletes with a partial amputated leg, to see what they did to get back to their sport.”
The day after the surgery, his father Jake said Peter was struggling a bit emotionally and physically.
“We’re just trying to get him to eat today,” Jake said. “Not sure when, but Peter will be transferred to a rehabilitation center in Fresno fairly soon. I would like to thank his teammates and the community for their overwhelming support - we greatly appreciate it - it means a lot to Peter and me and his mother.”
“As unfortunate as it is for PJ having to deal with the emotional and physical pain, we know he is getting world class treatment at the hospital, Jeff said.
The running back was a graduate of Rivergold Elementary School where he was a standout student and athlete.
Rivergold Principal Bob Rose said Kuzmitski demonstrated a lot of drive and desire in everything he did.
“For many years, as a referee, I have watched Peter on the soccer field always giving more than 100%, never letting-up,” Rose said.
Rivergold administrators, staff, teachers and students are putting a book together today, filled with many heartfelt words of encouragement and wishes for a quick recovery.
Bob Elliott, Peter’s first grade teacher and coach wrote in the book: “I want you to know you are one of the most enjoyable kids I ever worked with. You have always played with passion, with the heart of a lion, but also with kindness to others and a real sense of how to have a goofy fun time ... the community is very much concerned about you ... and talking about you ... and this is what I hear over and over .... you’re a good friend, you are very determined and very strong. Whatever the future now holds, you will remain all of these things ... those qualities that have always made the community love you ... you have been an inspiring part of our community’s soul, and you continue to inspire.”
All the team members of the Yosemite JV team have placed words of encouragement on the back of their helmets (ie: playing for you PJ).
And it’s not just Mountain Area people supporting Kuzmitski. Radio personality Deen Snider, formerly with the band Twisted Sister, gave a ‘shout-out’ to Peter Tuesday night on his nationally syndicated show.
Yesterday, Peter received a personal, inspiring short video from Oakland Raiders quarterback Derick Carr, telling him he is thinking of him and praying for him. “Be strong, and I hope to see you soon,” Carr said.
Anita Johnson is the treasurer of the Badger Football Boosters.
“This was a very unfortunate accident, but the boosters will do everything we can to rally behind PJ and his family,” Johnson said.
Bank account for family
A bank account has been set-up at Chase Bank for PJ and his family. Checks can be made out to Yosemite Football Boosters with PJ Kuzmitski in the memo line of the check, and sent to Chase Bank, 40003 Highway 49, Oakhurst, CA., 93644. Checks can also be taken to the bank on the north-west corner of Highways 41and 49.
Friday’s football game canceled
The football game that was scheduled for Friday night with Arvin has been canceled.