TWIN FALLS — When Faust Ystueta’s leg got caught in a grain auger while he was working a few years ago in Murtaugh, worst-case scenarios went through his mind: “I’ll lose my leg. I’ll never be able to play basketball again.”
It was a long road to recovery, but thankfully, neither of those scenarios came true. After about six surgeries and many medical trials, Ystueta was among 256 students who graduated May 21 from Twin Falls High School.
The 18-year-old is graduating with a 3.6 GPA and three-fourths of his classes this year are either Advanced Placement or dual credit. He has earned approximately 20 college credits through the College of Southern Idaho.
In late April, Ystueta signed to play basketball with Walla Walla Community College in Walla Walla, Washington. It was a double-signing ceremony with his friend and fellow basketball athlete Mitchell Brizee.
In addition to playing basketball, Ystueta plans to study accounting and business in college. At Twin Falls High, he played basketball, was a member of National Honor Society, DECA and the Academy of Finance.
Getting to this point, though, was a struggle.
‘It was a traumatic experience’
In August 2016 — the summer before his sophomore year of high school — Ystueta was working for his friend’s father, who owns a dairy and grain business.
“I wanted to establish a work ethic,” he told the Times-News in early May.
Ystueta and his friends were working in a silo. Ystueta took a step backward and his left leg got caught in the auger.
“My leg actually stopped the grain auger itself,” he said.
Ystueta said he remembers being in shock and screaming. Emergency responders had to cut a hole into the side of the silo in order to remove him.
“It was a traumatic experience for me,” and for his friends who witnessed it, he said.
He was flown to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise, where he underwent reconstructive surgery. The auger had severed the majority of the tendons leading down to his foot.
A doctor told him he’d make a full recovery and that he was very lucky.
‘It just took a toll’
Ystueta started his sophomore year at Twin Falls High shortly thereafter. On average, he was able to attend three of five school days each week. The rest of the time, he was at medical appointments in Boise.
He was using crutches and it was difficult to move between classes. And he was dealing with a lot of pain.
“It just took a toll on me,” he said.
A doctor expected he’d be able to play basketball when the season started in November — just a few months after his injury. But that didn’t happen.
Ystueta still had open wounds.
“It just wasn’t healing,” he said.
The area was swelling up every day and the wounds were oozing.
“It was embarrassing for me,” Ystueta said. “I didn’t want my friends to see it.” He’d often call his parents and ask to get out of school.
A doctor told him the wounds may be infected and a culture confirmed the presence of bacteria. Ystueta had contracted a rare bacterial infection.
He needed surgery right away and had that done in fall 2016. He missed basketball tryouts and was sad about that.
Ystueta spent about a week in the hospital following the surgery. And that fall, he had a few surgeries in total to clean out the wounds. One of the surgeries was a skin graft, where skin was taken from his upper leg and transplanted to his ankle.
He was started on strong antibiotics, including Amikacin, every day and an IV port was placed. He was vomiting often and felt terrible.
He was only able to go to classes at Twin Falls High one or two days a week. And then, he wasn’t able to attend at all due to his health issues.
“At this point, I’ve pretty much scratched the first semester of high school,” Ystueta said.
He’s an excellent student and had a 4.0 GPA his freshman year. But he had missed so much school the first semester of his sophomore year that his grades had dropped.
His teachers reached out — particularly his English teacher Matt Coleman and Finance Academy teacher Lorainne Rapp — to help, Ystueta said. Coleman even came to Ystueta’s home to help him with an essay.
A lot of teachers helped pare back the number of daily assignments he had to complete, but Ystueta still had to take tests on material he barely knew. He was just trying to pass his classes. And he took incomplete marks in two advanced courses.
Griselda Escobedo, a school counselor at Twin Falls High School, told the Times-News in early May she remembers when Ystueta came into her office his sophomore year.
He was a strong student academically, but his grades started to fall since he was absent frequently due to medical issues, Escobedo said.
“His grades dropped, obviously, and he was really discouraged because they were going to be on his transcript,” she said.
Escobedo told Ystueta that sometimes in life, obstacles get in our way. But it’s what we do with that and how we overcome them that’s important, she said.
Escobedo also told him he could write about his medical experiences in college and scholarship essays to explain the drop in grades.
“He’s just a really hard worker,” Escobedo said, adding it’s amazing to see how he has overcome obstacles.
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Ystueta said he was in a funk during that time and as someone who used to be so active, it was weird spending so much time on the sofa. It was tough to get his motivation back. He said he also has some post-traumatic stress from the accident.
His mother was doing research on his infection and came across National Jewish Health in Denver with specialists who are knowledgeable about that condition. They traveled to Denver and Ystueta underwent many tests.
Doctors saw two areas of his foot that looked concerning, so they did a surgery that spring to open up the area and check for infection. Cultures came back negative for bacteria. Ystueta was also undergoing frequent MRIs.
It was discouraging to go to Denver, Ystueta said, because he felt like before that, he was gaining ground and he’d have to start over again with the recovery process.
‘The thought of getting better’
During the second semester of sophomore year, Ystueta wasn’t missing as much school but was still gone one or two days a week. That eventually tapered down to about one day every two weeks when he didn’t need to go to the hospital as often.
“I fell in love with the thought of getting better,” Ystueta said.
His grades started improving, too, and he was getting As and Bs.
Ystueta was on the basketball team his sophomore year, but wasn’t able to play and was on the bench. He wanted to go to every game he could.
He still had an IV port and received treatment while at games. His father would administer the medication in restrooms during away games and Ystueta would wear a jacket to cover up the port.
He said he wanted to keep to himself and didn’t want to make a scene so that people could focus on watching the game. He said he was so secretive that to this day, he’s not sure if his basketball coach knew what was happening.
“It was hard for me because, at that point, I felt weak,” Ystueta said.
He was doing physical therapy three or four days a week. He said he felt he needed to be able to play basketball again “to keep me sane.”
For the first time in nearly eight months, Ystueta was able to start shooting baskets. A big milestone was the first time since the accident that he played pickup basketball at CSI, and his father was there to witness it.
When he got his IV port removed after nearly a year, it was such a good day, he said.
“I just felt like I was released, basically.”
He was ecstatic and went swimming shortly thereafter since he’d previously had to keep the area dry.
And when he came off antibiotics, “that’s when I felt like I beat it.”
Once his IV port was out, he was able to start fully playing basketball again. The summer before his junior year, he played summer basketball through Twin Falls High. He couldn’t play defense, but could score and make good plays, he said.
“I was so set on ‘I want to play. I want to play,’” Ystueta said. “That’s what I wanted to do.”
‘It all just basically came full circle’
When his junior year started at Twin Falls High, Ystueta decided not to play football as he had in years past. He wanted to focus on basketball.
“I just didn’t want to get hurt,” he said, and jeopardize missing basketball season.
Every day after school, Ystueta shot hoops in the school gym. He wanted to be a starter on the team — and he achieved that goal. He was even named an all-state player.
“That was just big for me,” he said.
His junior year was a great basketball season, he said. A couple of colleges started talking with his coaches about him. And in the classroom, he earned As and Bs.
But it wasn’t without challenges. Ystueta underwent a surgery in Twin Falls called a fasciotomy, and had to sit out on playing basketball for a month or two.
He strove to keep things in perspective about the surgery.
“I knew in the end it would help me,” he said.
The summer before his senior year, Ystueta played in a club basketball team out of Boise and competed regionally.
Going into his senior year, Ystueta knew he wanted to pursue basketball in college and also wanted to keep his grades up. He said his parents made sure academics were his priority.
He was named an all-state player again and competed in an all-star game in Coeur d’Alene this school year. He said he felt his hard work paid off and he was living a normal life again, not as “a lab rat.”
Ystueta said he doesn’t have a full range of motion in his left leg or foot, and said he can’t jump off his left leg very well. But “a lot of people don’t know what’s going on with my leg.”
At least six colleges talked with Ystueta about playing basketball at the collegiate level.
“I wanted to find the best for me,” he said.
Walla Walla Community College’s basketball facilities stood out to him, and it was close enough to his father and friends that they could come watch his games.
He said he credits his parents for going through trials with him over the last few years. And he said he’s thankful for his friends, friends’ parents, teachers and coaches for their support.
Now, he’s looking to take his next steps, he said.
“It all just basically came full circle for me, as an athlete and a student.”