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Story: Helias track star and football player overcomes adversity to set the bar high

Story: Helias track star and football...

JEFFERSON CITY - Helias's Grant Bryan just wants what many other high school kids want, to fit in.

"I just wanted to be normal so bad," Grant said.

On the track and football field, he is anything but normal. Grant's relay team set a school record during his senior year and placed 13th in the state in the class 4 4 by 400 relay team.

Helias Football and Track Coach Tim Rulo said, "He's just an amazing kid and to think he's done all this on top of what he has gone through is incredible."

Grant's journey to getting on the football field or track cost him long hours in surgery and the hospital. Doctors diagnosed Grant with Leukemia when he was two years old. He had cancer until he was seven or eight but was not officially cleared as cancer free until he was 12.

Grant's father John Bryan said, "When doctor's said, 'your son has Leukemia,' I was just shocked. I thought that was it."

Grant's mother Elaine Bryan said, "Well that was the first thing that went through my mind is oh my gosh my son is going to die. I still remember him in his little bed in the hospital. I just couldn't leave him. We'd play patty cake and so you'd just do different things to try and make him happy."

After long hours battling cancer, Grant's trips to the hospital were far from over. He was also born with Pectus Excavatum, which is a sunken chest that put pressure on his heart and lungs.

Grant's girlfriend Kayla Yanskey said, "He would also get really down. He always struggled with confidence, because obviously he had a huge hole in his chest. I mean, I always told him nobody thinks any differently of you."

At first, John Bryan said his chest was not "too bad." However, as time progressed, the indentation of Grant's chest got worse and even caused an irregular heartbeat.

"I thought it was just something every kid had, and then I noticed in 8th grade track that I just couldn't breathe. I went to see a doctor and they took a test that said I had about 50 percent lung capacity," Grant said.

Before his freshman year, Grant had surgery to put a curved, metal bar about one foot long in his chest with brackets that attached to his ribs. The goal was to break the rib cage and reshape it similar to how some common jaw surgeries are done.

Grant said, "I just remember watching the surgery done on YouTube the days before, and I couldn't take my eyes of it. It was incredible."

Doctors performed the surgery and Grant was in intensive care for about 10 days.

Kayla said with a laugh, "I just remember him being so groggy but also so happy at the same time."

"I still remember being there and looking down at my chest and finally feeling normal," Grant said.

Feeling normal, Grant wanted to get back out playing sports. John Bryan said he talked to around 15 different doctors for opinions. Ultimately, Grant was cleared to play both football and track his freshman season.

However, on a slant route during one of Helias's games, Grant ran across the middle and caught the pass before being tackled. Grant said he fell on his chest and heard a pop.

"It was just poking right out against the skin. It was just the most ridiculous pain you can ever imagine. It was just like you are walking right along and just get stabbed," Grant said

Grant left the game and went with his family to the hospital to have the bar and brackets reattached. 

"I still remember all those long nights there. It was really hard, because he was just in so much pain and what could you do? It was a helpless feeling," Elaine Bryan said.

The next two years, Grant had the bar and did not play football. However, he was fully healed and had doctors remove the bar the summer before his junior year. He decided to play football his senior year as a defensive back.

"I was mostly scared yeah. I mean I was excited, but at first I was worried about my chest again," Grant said.

"You have a young man who has been refined by a lot of fire. He's just been able to go through a lot of different experiences, but it's made him a better person." Rulo said.

However, even after countless surgeries and a childhood spent in the hospital, or what Grant calls his "second home," Grant is turning it all full circle into a positive. He plans to become a nurse and attend MU in the Fall of 2017.

"With cancer he can say, here I am at 20 years old or 25 or whatever he will be and say I had this so your kid will be fine," John Bryan said.

"It's incredible. He's this happy kid that just does not let it get to him. He's incredibly brave," Elaine Bryan said.

As for his girlfriend Kayla, she also competed in track during state finals and will also attend MU in the fall to study mathematics and education. Although both are not playing sports for Mizzou, both said they are excited for what the future holds.


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