DOTHAN, AL (WSFA) - Often, you can catch 16-year-old Matthew Jayroe outside, in his driveway, shooting hoops.
"I like to play basketball and run track and cross country for the school," said Matthew.
Watching him play, it'd be hard to tell he had a serious peripheral nerve injury that temporarily caused him to lose sensation in his foot about three years ago.
"We were cooking in the kitchen and my mom wanted me to get the butter dish out of the refrigerator and when I grabbed it – it slipped out of my hand. I thought it was going to hit my foot, so I jumped out of the way. When I landed a big chunk of it cut my foot," said Matthew.
Matthew's mom, a school nurse, knew immediately this wasn't a normal injury.
"When his foot was cut so deeply and there was so much blood. I knew it was a serious accident," said Teresa Jayroe.
The glass had sliced through several nerves and tendons in the arch of his foot. Instantly, Matthew couldn't feel anything from the arch of his foot up to his big toe and at least two toes over.
"He couldn't feel anything. It didn't matter if there was a needle poking in there or not. There was nothing there," said Teresa.
Emergency room doctors stitched the outer layer of skin but informed the family that Matthew had severe nerve damage.
"That's a pretty scary thing to hear. I thought, what if he can't feel the bottom of his foot for the rest of his life," said Teresa.
The next step was finding a doctor who could repair the damage – but that was challenging.
"Nerve damage in the foot isn't worked on that often. Most doctors they train in the arms," said Matthew.
Efforts to find a local doctor were in vain, so Teresa started looking outside Alabama.
"Surely there has to be somebody somewhere who can do this kind of surgery," said Teresa.
After online research and phone calls, a week following the accident, she found Dr. A. Lee Dellon, Professor of Plastic Surgery and Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, in Maryland.
He performed a nerve allograft surgery, with nerves provided from the company AxoGen. The company harvests and cleans nerves from a cadaver to use for procedures like this. In the past, surgeons would reconnect nerve endings by sewing severed pieces together – but that wasn't successful.
"If you sew those pieces together the nerve repair won't work because you're sewing damaged nerve. We have to cut back the piece of nerve that's been damaged until we get the healthy pieces of nerve," said Dr. Dellon, M.D., P.h.D.
The nerve allograft was fitted between the sliced nerve endings to reconnect them.
"It's kind of like a tube or a train going down the tracks. When the nerves do grow back, they're growing back in the right way," said Teresa.
After more than a week without sensation, Matthew says the night of the surgery things started to change.
"I could already feel the nerves and sensation in my foot," Matthew said.
"It was like the switch is flipped and the light is on. The nerves are waking up," said Teresa.
Matthew's recovery included time spent wearing a specialized cast and therapy. The surgery was so new, filing insurance came with some issues.
"We notified the insurance company before we went, but because nobody had ever had a surgery like this with the nerve grafts in the foot, they didn't have an insurance code for it," said Teresa.
They were eventually able to work out the claim with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama.
Three years post-surgery, Matthew says he feels like he's at about 90 percent.
"Since the surgery, I feel like I can do anything I want like run or bike or play basketball," he said.
And his mom says her initial fears the injury might impact him long-term are gone.
"I don't see any difference in what Matthew can do now than what he can do then. I mean he can do everything he wants to do," said Teresa.
For more information on the surgery, you can visit Dr. Dellon's website at dellon.com.