Hope hasn’t slowed down an ounce.
2 months (September 2015) after this story was published, the time came to cease contact with Mitchell. Hope was most upset about him invalidating her feelings when she asked to have her last name changed and then heard him tell me to quit putting things in her head. Hope’s grades and behavior began to suffer greatly. Mitchell was making promises he wouldn’t keep. She’d leave him voicemail after voicemail and he’d rarely return her calls. He used the excuse that the time he went to work and the time she arrived home from school conflicted. The few times he talked to her he’d promise her video calls on the weekends and then never follow through. After talking to him several times about the issues that his inconsistency was causing, and then him continuing to be just as inconsistent the time came. As her parent SHE is my number one priority, her health and safety are of the utmost importance. The bottom line is you cannot MAKE someone be who you believed they could be, when that’s not who they are. That’s a painful reality. I do not regret the time I allowed Hope to spend getting to know him, she figured out exactly who he is without being told. If she chooses to revisit communicating with him when she’s at an appropriate age, Kevin and I will be supportive of that. If she chooses not to, we will be supportive of that too.
At the time I let Mitchell know there would be no further phone communication, I reminded him of the same email address I’ve had for over a decade and our home address. I told him he could email to check on her or use our home address if he ever wanted to send anything for her.
Another birthday came and went with no card, letter, gift or email.
Mid December 2015, Mitchell calls me out of the blue stating he was staying the night in our town, on the way to Wisconsin where he was moving with his fiancé Vada and he’d like to see Hope. I found this VERY odd considering he hadn’t communicated with me at all since I told him there would be no more phone contact months earlier. Kevin and I made the executive decision not to allow a visit. When we told Hope what was going on, she stated she did not want to see him. She then became very paranoid knowing he was near and said “I’m afraid he will hurt you or daddy to get to me”. We reassured her that she was safe and so were we.
Mitchell used the next two days to harass me by text. He told me the people they were staying with were very well known in our town and agree that I am in the wrong. The next day he stated he knew where to find me/us. Upon reading the text messages, Hope’s doctor urged me to make a police report. The officer left a voicemail on Mitchell’s phone stating harassment charges would be filed if he continued to harass me on the phone and that he was welcome to check the welfare of Hope using email or US Mail to contact me. I did not receive any more phone calls or text messages.
The coordinator with the UCO Endeavor Games contacted me during the winter months and asked if Hope and I would come address a group that fundraises for the Endeavor games in the spring, I agreed. I envisioned a small group of 10-20 attendees since the event was called a luncheon. I found out the day before to expect 100-150 attendees. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. Hope and I went together and conquered it. The speech I prepared didn’t leave a dry eye in the room.
My speech from that day: “In 2006 at the age of 21, I gave birth to a baby girl I named Hope long before I knew she would inspire it. Among other medical issues, she was born missing the tibia bone in her right leg. After doctors gave the official diagnosis “Tibial hemimelia” I began doing what most uneducated adults would do. I typed the words into search engine after search engine. Photos of legs that looked identical to Hope’s returned in the results. I knew in my heart that the diagnosis was right. Of all the articles I read two things stood out to me:
1. The occurrence of her condition was one in every one million births.
2. The word “amputation” was mentioned in every article.
I thought “There’s no way I’m allowing any Dr. to cut off Hope’s leg ”.
Hope’s father left when she was two months old, choosing to never see her again.
From that point forward it became my mission to change the outcome of Hope’s treatment. We visited four additional pediatric orthopedic surgeons in three different states. I prayed, and I wished that every one of them would tell me the one before them was wrong.
None of the doctors told me what I wanted to hear. Instead all of them made the same recommendation… Amputation.
Nothing can prepare a parent to make the decision to remove their child’s body part. I’d never personally known an amputee. I had never seen a prosthetic leg up close. I remember being naïve and asking the Dr. if I would need to buy Hope special shoes. I had no experience.
Hope underwent a through the knee amputation on April 10, 2008 just shy of 18 months old.
Less than 4 hours after surgery Hope was crawling around the crib on her bandaged nub. A nurse told me that I needed to keep her off of it. My aunt and I took turns holding Hope. Let’s be real, you can only hold a toddler for so long before their crying and screaming is making everyone around them miserable. She was sharing the hospital room with three other girls.
When the Dr. came in to check on Hope, I asked how he suggested I keep her off of the nub. He said “You really can’t. If she starts hurting too much – she’ll stop.” She never stopped!
We returned to the hospital 2 ½ months later to pick up her first prosthetic leg. This is where we met 9 month old Talon and his family. We made an immediate connection. His mom was pushing him in a stroller, both of his legs looked exactly like Hope’s right leg did before surgery. He was there to have both legs amputated. Talon participates in the endeavor games and we look forward to seeing him and his family every year.
Physical therapy was brutal. Hope cried almost nonstop every time. She hated her prosthetic leg! After all, she could crawl faster when she wasn’t wearing the leg. As her parent, I felt discouraged and defeated after every therapy. I wondered if she would ever walk.
At the age of three, after more than a year of physical therapy I was dressing her for the day. As I tied her shoes I said “If you want to go to school one day you’re going to have to learn to walk without your walker”.
She stood up immediately and walked across our living room, with no assistance.
Stares and loud obvious whispers have become normal for us any time we go out in public. Folks often say things like:
“Why is she like that?”
“What happened to that girl?”
“Why does she have a robot leg?”
Adults have always been worse than children.
I registered Hope for her first UCO endeavor games in 2011. She was 4 ½ years old. My first observation upon arriving at the track was that those of us with four natural limbs were in fact, the minority. The second thing I noticed was the absence of rude comments and stares.
As the gun sounded for Hope’s race to begin she stood frozen at the start line, crying. I wanted to run out onto the track, wrap her in a hug and tell her she could do it. I knew that if I walked onto the track she would be disqualified. Instead, I stood on the sidelines cheering for her along with what felt like hundreds of people. Hope walked slowly down the track as she cried.
Then it happened! Halfway down the track, Hope took off like a speeding bullet. The crowd exploded with screams and cheers.
My now husband and I met Hope at the finish line. We were a snotty, blubbering crying mess. Kevin picked Hope up. A lady I had never met hugged me. She said “I remember exactly how I felt when my Hannah crossed the finish line the first time.”
Let me tell you – the only people in this world who know the struggles and what it is like to parent an amputee is another parent of an amputee. I’ve met and made friends with many parents at endeavor.
My favorite race Hope participated in was in 2014. She didn’t even place, didn’t earn a medal. Her leg began to slip off while she was running. Did she stop? Absolutely not. She used her hands to hold her prosthetic leg on and finished the race. That is never giving up!
Truthfully, I get a little emotional every time Hope crosses the finish line.
Hope will be participating in the endeavor games for the fifth time this summer 2016. She will participate in swimming, the 20 m, 60 m, and 100 m track events.
You see, the UCO endeavor games is about so much more than competing and collecting medals for Hope and our family.
I believe, I speak for every athlete when I make that statement.
Hope and I have made friends who relate to us in ways no one else can. The whole culture of the endeavor games is incredible. This is the one weekend of out of the year that Hope feels like she belongs. She is not different. She feels empowered, inspired, proud of and free to be who she is with no condemnation. I am constantly inspired and feel such gratitude that I get to witness these phenomenal athletes do what makes them smile and their souls shine.
Thank you endeavor games staff for working so hard to make these games happen and thank you corporate challenge for all the support you offer to the endeavor games – you’re changing lives with every year the games continue.
If you would like to read Hope’s story in its entirety, you may read it at the website displayed free of charge.(a slide with the web address to her story will be displayed)”
During the summer/spring 2016
Hope played softball with her school for special Olympics where they earned 1st place, she played wheelchair basketball (bronze), ran the 20m (gold), 60m (gold), and 100m (silver) at the Endeavor Games and then her and I went to the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team Kids camp in Washington, DC and had the best time! That was truly one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been to and I will go back!
On a hot day in July we walked into an archery shop in our town. Fire ignited inside of Hope like I had never seen before. She fell in love! We allowed her to try shooting and she got a bullseye within the first 15 minutes! She is actively practicing and plans to compete in Archery in the future.
In the fall (2016), our family took a trip to San Diego, CA. We stopped in New Mexico and met “Peach”, the founder of Peach’s Neet Feet (www.peachsneetfeet.com). She and her family are some of the most beautiful souls we’ve ever met. Hope was immediately connected with her and stuck like glue. While in California, Hope participated in events hosted by the Challenged Athletes Foundation, we spent time with friends on the beach, and we even surprised the kids with a trip to Disneyland.
Another birthday came and went with no letter, or card.
Hope received an American Girl doll for her birthday from close family friends. Not just any doll but, one with a prosthetic leg on her right leg- just like Hope! The video showing her priceless reaction can be viewed here: https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10211529486219806&id=1443900030
In the winter 2017, I woke up to acomment on that video that has since disappeared. Vada used Mitchell’s facebook account to comment on that sweet video of Hope opening up her doll. Vada stated there was no way Hope was his child, that a DNA test would be “coming my way” and that I have “a lot to pay back”. I commented back stating I was okay with that, and that she and Mitchell are both welcome to communicate with me privately via messenger, email, or US Mail. I spoke with her adult daughter via messenger, I asked her to relay that the comment publicly was unnecessary. I learned Vada also left her children at a young age. Parents leaving their children will always seem like a great tragedy to me. Nearly four months later, I am still waiting for instruction and notification of the DNA test.
Johnnie and I have only become closer. She is such a positive light in Hope’s life. Isaac and Eric think they have a stepmom too, although Kevin and I have never even separated. We don’t see any reason to correct it. She loves them and the three of them love her, that’s the most important thing. I am looking forward to the day that she can come visit or we can visit her.
Hope is gearing up for the Endeavor Games where she’ll be running the 100m and 200m this year, and she’s training in Archery weekly. We have a busy summer ahead with a minor surgery planned in mid June, and a brand new prosthetic in mid July. She’ll also be taking a hunter’s safety course soon, and then she’ll be able to compete with an organization in Archery. In the next year or so, she’ll be getting braces to straighten her teeth and jaw. She was predisposed to need them. I wore braces for several years, and Mitchell’s teeth aren’t in the best of shape either.
So there you have it. An update on our beautiful girl. I’m still so proud to be her mother. My only wish is that she wouldn’t grow up so fast. She’s nearly a preteen and is acting more and more like a teenager daily. As of right now she says when she grows up she’s going to be a family doctor AND a teacher AND a 911 dispatcher. I asked when she’d have time to do three careers and she said “Easy! I’ll be a teacher during the day and a doctor at night!”. I guess she hasn’t figured out when she’ll have time to dispatch between the other two. She’s growing up at an alarming rate. If anyone figures out the secret to keeping them little longer, please share it with me!