ROME TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Fairland High School goalkeeper Jacob Polcyn's greatest save wasn't made on the soccer field.
On May 1, Polcyn and friend Zach Stewart saved the life of their friend and teammate Jesse Lewis when they pulled a 1,300-pound mower off him after the machine flipped while Lewis was operating it on a lawn just off County Road 3. Polcyn and Stewart don't talk about what they saw. The trauma remains too fresh. The height adjuster lever, which raises and lowers the blade to the mower, impaled Lewis, who lay gasping for breath as blood filled his chest cavity.
The lever broke Lewis' shoulder, several ribs and punctured both lungs. It missed his heart by half an inch.
"I really didn't know I was impaled," Lewis said. "I was just going up a hill and it flipped back on me. I really couldn't feel anything."
Friends Molly and Wyatt Morris and John Baise applied pressure to slow the bleeding. One of them called 911. Eight minutes later, a Lawrence County Emergency Medical Services squad arrived and administered aid, with help from fire department members from Chesapeake and Proctorville.
"I heard that if they had been much later, I would have died," Lewis said. "Both my lungs were collapsed and I was lying there thinking, 'How am I going to make it?'"
Lewis, 16, was at risk of drowning in his own blood. The medical personnel inserted the first two of five tubes Lewis had to evacuate his chest of blood and air.
"The EMS guys were great," Lewis said. "I was conscious the whole time and I remember everything they were doing. I remember them putting the chest tubes in, having trouble getting the IV in."
The EMS unit took Lewis to Cabell Huntington Hospital, where doctors and nurses stabilized him. He spent the next 29 days there and at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus. His parents, Jesse Sr. and Susan Bouchillon, stayed with him. Doctors removed 15% of one of Lewis' lungs.
"They said it looked like dog meat," Lewis said.
The Fairland junior said his list of people to thank is lengthy, with God at the top.
"I don't know how you can say there is no God after something like this," said Lewis, who attends Sanctuary of Grace Church in Rome Township. "It's been crazy. I've never seen the community come together in a full-fledged way like this, and I appreciate all the prayers and cards and visits."
Members of the EMS crew said they agreed that divine intervention kept Lewis alive. Stewart originally wasn't going to be with Lewis and Polcyn, but changed his mind and went to help. Without him, Polcyn would have had to lift the mower himself.
"He didn't have anything to do so he came to help us," Lewis said of Stewart. "It's a good thing he did. It took both of them to move the mower. If he hadn't been with us, I probably would have died."
Even with Stewart there, lifting the mower was a tremendous feat. Neither Polcyn nor Stewart is a large boy, yet they somehow managed to lift a machine that weighs more than a half-ton off their friend.
Lewis also pondered how the lever went where it did. The probability that it missed his heart, thoracic aorta, pulmonary artery and other great vessels astounded Lewis and his family.
Lewis said he still is quite sore, but making progress.
"I've been going to Riverside Physical Therapy and Joe (Lambiotte) is taking great care of me," Lewis said.
Whether Lewis, a forward, will be able to return to the soccer field for the Aug. 24 opener at North Adams is doubtful, but he hopes to take the field at some point. He said he still plans on fulfilling his duties as a manager for Fairland's boys basketball team.
"We're trying," Lewis said. "I hope to play soccer this season. It's not just my shoulder that needs to heal. They're working on my cardiovascular system, too. My heart rate goes up really fast and they're monitoring that. I'm running a little bit, but I can't do too much yet."
Fairland Athletic Director Jeff Gorby said Lewis will be missed, but encouraged him to take his time and recover.
"Jesse is much more than just an athlete at Fairland," Gorby said. "He is a true leader and the glue that holds our department together some days. In the course of a basketball game, I've seen Jesse keep the book, run the clock, get players water and answer questions from the media. On the soccer field he's a leader, and if he's not on the field, he is the biggest supporter of his teammates."
While in the hospital, Lewis was re-elected class president.
"I might have picked up some sympathy votes," Lewis said with a laugh.
The Dragons youngster has kept his sense of humor through the ordeal. He said he particularly was entertained by a text he received from family friend and Fairland Middle School volleyball coach Missy Gorby, Jeff's sister, asking him if he was available to help move bails of straw.
"I had two Jesses in my phone and I hit the wrong one," Gorby said, laughing at her error. "He probably thought I was crazy. He was very polite when he told me, 'Miss Gorby, I don't think my shoulder is quite ready for that.'"
Nor is Lewis ready for mowing any time soon, even if he wants to try.
"Mom says no, so I guess I'll wait a few years and find some other way to make some money," Lewis said.