Saturday, August 22, 2009

Florida 8-year-old becomes first amputee to play in soccer league

From the Northwest Florida Daily News:

Part of Ben Baltz (pictured) life has become marked with milestones.

Ben, 8, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in March 2008. His leg was amputated the same year. In October 2008 he finished chemotherapy, and in November he rejoined his classmates at school.

"We’re amazed by Ben," said his father, J.C. Baltz. "We continue to be amazed."

This week marks another step in Ben’s progress. It was a little more than a year ago that he was fitted with his first prosthetic limb at Hanger Prosthetics. He learned to walk again with the help of Jack Pranzarone and August 19 he began learning to run again.

"He could be a track star," Pranzarone said with a smile as he watched Ben race his father in a grassy area outside the patient care center.

Through a donation from Flex Foot and with the backing of Hanger, Ben now is able to run in a way he couldn’t before with a carbon fiber running blade. Pranzarone said the blade and artificial knee would have cost the Baltz’ more than $10,000 if they’d had to purchase it on their own.

"I just feel so blessed, for Ben," J.C. Baltz said.

Ben took a few spills on Wednesday as he became accustomed to the device that isn’t readily available to most kids his age..

"It’s fun," Ben said, jumping up and down. "It’s like walking on a pogo stick," Pranzarone replied.

Although Ben had already been playing sports, the running blade will allow him to compete in track activities and keep up with his classmates, J.C. Baltz said. Ben will also be playing PAL soccer this year. It will be the first time an amputee has played with the league.

"We just can’t wait to see all that he can do," J.C. Baltz said. "We’re so grateful. I look forward to him running next to me one day and finishing in front of me in a 5K."