Sarcoma Story: Scott Tjaden

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Type of Sarcoma: Osteosarcoma
Date of Diagnosis: 1980
Location: knee

It was 1980 and Scott Tjaden was a typical nine-year-old kid living in Willmar with a loving family, a cadre of friends, and a lifetime of adventure ahead of him. He loved sports, and when he had a hit on the knee during a football game, he didn’t think much of it. The soreness in his knee didn’t dissipate, and after an extended period of time, his parents determined it was time to see a doctor.

They brought Scott to their doctor at the Willmar Clinic. After looking at an x-ray of Scott’s knee, the doctor told Scott and his parents that he had scheduled an appointment for him at the University of Minnesota with Dr. Roby Thompson, an orthopedic surgeon. After a biopsy and scans, Scott and his parents were informed he had osteogenic sarcoma (now known as osteosarcoma).

Treatment – above knee amputation of his leg. Scott said he’d rather die than have his leg “cut off.” His parents were devastated – Scott was their only child – they gave him a 50/50 chance of survival – and they’d never heard of sarcoma. 

Successful surgery was performed the day before Thanksgiving. For the following 18 months, Scott endured chemo treatments every three weeks, rotating between four days inpatient at the University of Minnesota and outpatient at their Willmar Clinic.

In addition, Scott received inpatient therapy at Shriner’s Hospital, where he was fitted with a prosthetic leg, taking his first step in February of 1981.  Scott said it was “pretty easy to learn to walk with the prosthetic” and, with the support of family and friends, was soon back to most of his regular activities – including sports. 

A junior high school teacher, who was also the swim coach, encouraged Scott to take up swimming. That encouragement was all he needed to get on the team. It wasn’t long before he was swimming competitively on a national and international level. He competed for the U.S. in Seoul, Korea Paralympics, Australia and England (winning a silver medal) in 1988; Jr. Nationals in Miami in 1989, competitions in Nashville, New York, Atlanta, and Barcelona Paralympics in 1992. Scott ‘s father belonged to the local Optimist Club, who graciously raised money to enable him to participate in the international events. 

In addition to swimming, Scott participated in wheelchair basketball, softball and sled hockey. He was a swimming instructor in high school, college and at community centers. Scott was a rock climber and Eagle Scout. He played drums and won awards with the Marching Band. He was highlighted in a segment on a local ABC channel called “Incredible Kids”. From his activity, it didn’t appear Scott thought he had any type of “disability”, he didn’t understand that he couldn’t do something – he just did it.

Being impressed with the physical therapists at Shriner’s, Scott initially planned on going into the field as a career. He soon switched to prosthetics. After earning a degree as a Certified Prosthetist, he spent 17 years in product support educating practitioners on new products and techniques. His expertise is now being focused on fitting patients with prosthetics and patient education. 

Since its inception in 2007, Scott has been active with the Wiggle your Toes organization, a nonprofit group for amputees, to “empower those who have lost a limb to move forward, take action and get back to the life they want” – or, as Scott put it – “heal-recover-flourish”.

He continues participating in sports and duck/waterfowl hunting with friends he’s made over the years. He also continues to give back. “I’ve had experiences I never would have if I hadn’t lost my leg,” says Scott. “Things happen – some good, some bad – move forward!” Words of wisdom from someone who has lived them.

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