Stepping on yet another jet-way, off to some new location. This was, like instances preceding it, a time filled with excitement. However, this trip was not a normal vacation. We were traveling to St. Paul, Minnesota, ultimately for a trip that would alter the course of my life. I was hoping for life alteration as well; although my view on this had me playing Right Defender for a NHL hockey team and not working for a political not-for-profit. Nonetheless, I was the one who ultimately wanted this trip, and resigned to the fact that whatever happened, had to happen.
Thirteen years hadn’t been so bad. I successfully played baseball for years, was able to compete in other sporting activities and was able to hang with most people my age. Luckily God gave me the grace during those years to brush off the criticism that came from my semi-awkward walk. Most who gave me a hard time to start with came around eventually.
Around 1999/2000, a few things started to shift. Pain started to gradually increase in seventh and eighth grade and I started to lag further behind in noticeable physical areas. My new love of Ice Hockey proved to be fruitless from a playing standpoint. The positioning of my legs, the neurological issues, and tonal issues from birth started to become more of a hindrance. Exclusion from certain activities I was fully capable of doing opened my eyes to the social downside that I’d been gracefully blinded from for so long. Surgery was an option, but not one I immediately wanted to consider.
As a four-year old I had a major surgery that left me in a body cast for 3-4 weeks. The hospital stay, the body cast, recovery and re-learning how to walk were not fond memories. Repeating this process was a dreadful thought, especially since the suggested surgery (from my God-sent physical therapist) was more intense than the one I experienced. Another surgery meant that I would have to relearn how to walk a third time (the second time was very difficult, so much so that the memory of the night I finally walked is one of the clearest I have). I initially learned about the procedure, femoral osteotomies, earlier in my elementary school days, and pretty much decided that it would take a drastic circumstance to go under the knife again. By spring of 2001, my though process bent a little. I reached the tipping point and decided that something had to change. I had seen every doctor I could imagine on the east coast in my life up to that point, so it was off to Minnesota.
I knew it was at least a decent place went I walked off the Sun Country (unfortunately Sept. 11th put them out of commercial business) airliner in Minneapolis. This was of course, the place that loved hockey more than I did. On top of that, it was also the place that was home to my hope and aspirations. From my understanding, this doctor had the ability to reduce my pain, allow me to run faster, skate, and for experience normal muscle functionality for the first time. The mere prospect, the tiny chance that any combination of these were possibilities made the flight over worth it.
The first visit to Region’s hospital was a long one, yet important. I remember the testing, my reactions, my complaints, going from department to department, waiting. Of course, there was the most important aspect, meeting Dr. Gage and his nurse Patrick. This combination was my earthly source of hope, possibility, frustration, and today immense gratitude. Dr. Gage was the first one to really tell me how, “it all happened.” I knew I had cerebral palsy but never quite understood why. Cerebral Palsy (neurological muscle impairment) is usually caused during birth when oxygen fails to reach the baby’s brain, resulting in brain damage. I was an emergency C-section with complications, providing the perfect scenario for a CP baby if the delivery was in any way performed in error. The brain damage (resulting in CP) sustained from the birth process, coupled with bone deformity also speculatively caused from the delivery was largely responsible for the internal rotation of the femurs. Of course, the increased muscle tone, and absence of significant muscle tone in other areas from the cerebral palsy played an important role in the internal rotation as well. How was Dr. Gage going to solve the 60 degree left leg and 50 degree right leg internal rotation? Two femoral osteotomies, a frost procedure, and groin muscle lengthening.
A few months after the initial visit I had the suggested procedures, and followed by four more varying operations on the legs and feet over the next four years. You may wonder, how successful were they? Each surgery varied in its “success,” but the main set of osteotomies achieved what the doctor intended. I am still unable to skate, have internal rotation, and am fighting some hip issues at the moment, but the surgery was a success. At the time of the surgery I was oblivious to the stakes in the situation. Dr. Gage was not really worried about my hockey dreams or my desire to skate, he wanted me to walk. Yes, I was able to walk before, but apparently I didn’t have much more time left in my legs. He told me that the cerebral palsy and the muscle tone were starting to pull the inwardly rotated bones even more, leading towards degenerative arthritis. If that condition were to set in, my ability to walk would’ve left and I would’ve been restricted to a wheelchair or scooter permanently. In addition, the timing of the surgery was perfect. If I had it earlier in my development, my bones would’ve grown back into the position and I would’ve experienced the same result. if it had been later, the osteotomies would not have been possible. The main operation could not have happened at a better time.
So, was it worth it? Am I glad my family made the initial trip out to Minnesota. The answer is obvious, I can walk. Recent physical therapy has made this more clear. The current doctor constantly refers to how far I’ve come in comparison to where I probably should be. It is an encouraging, yet humbling reminder. God afforded me yet another form of undeserved grace, sparing me from an immensely more difficult life.
Ten years out, I still have challenges ahead. My therapist makes it clear that my good friend in cerebral palsy is a life partner, and the road ahead will have its troubles. The initial trip to Minnesota was the Genesis of possibility, but there is still an incomplete story in progress. I’ll see where God leads.