Connor, a York High School senior, has been a member of his school’s cross country team since his freshman year. Rain or shine, he runs every day. During his peak training season, he runs as much as 10 miles a day. Considering that Connor was born with cerebral palsy, wore leg braces most of his life and has arthritis, his athletic accomplishments are nothing short of amazing.
As a child, Connor walked on his tiptoes, because, like many kids with cerebral palsy, his leg muscles tended to shorten and tighten up. After consulting with a doctor who recommended an operation to lengthen his leg muscles, Connor’s parents, Susan and Russ, sought a second opinion on less invasive treatments. When Connor was 5 they were referred to Children’s Rehabilitative Services program, and met with orthotist Moira Tobin Wickes. After a thorough examination, Connor was determined a good candidate for serial casting and began treatment.
Serial casting is a non-surgical approach to improving joint function and alignment. Joints that normally lack full range of motion are immobilized within a padded plaster or fiberglass cast, which are applied and removed in succession over a period of 10 to 16 weeks. The casts gradually brought Connor’s feet, ankles and lower legs into proper alignment. Even though he no longer needed the casts, he still required leg braces to keep his leg muscles from shortening.
Ms. Wickes co-founded the hospital’s nationally-renowned serial casting program in 1992 with physical therapist Mary Weck and orthotic technician Issac Tolliver. The program has helped more than 500 children either learn to walk or walk more efficiently and with increased endurance. After Ms. Wickes passed away in 2003, the orthotics department was named the Moira Tobin Wickes Orthotics Program in her honor.
Just before his freshman year, Connor decided to try out for the school’s cross country team after receiving an invitation in the mail. He had only recently stopped wearing his daytime leg braces. “Before Russ and I agreed, we spoke with his caregivers at Children’s, and they were very supportive,” says Susan.
At first, Connor struggled to run just one-eighth of a mile of the three-mile course. “He was disappointed, but highly motivated,” says Susan. “I remember that he was so excited the first time he finished the entire course.”
Connor was encouraged by his coach, Joe Newton, and his teammates. “The other kids embraced and encouraged him,” says Susan. “They would line the course and chant his name, even when he finished last.”
Connor, his teammates and Coach Newton were featured in the critically-acclaimed 2008 documentary, “The Long Green Line,” which chronicled York’s 2005 cross country team.
Now 18, Connor continues to be treated by orthotists and physical therapists at Children’s, where he also receives care for arthritis, and will enter a post-high school transition program this fall.
“It’s been a pleasure to see the positive changes achieved by Connor with his exceptional drive and dedication, as well as by others treated in this program,” says Weck. “It’s especially rewarding when these changes are maintained throughout their growing years, enabling children and adolescents to achieve things they might not have otherwise.”
Susan and Russ praise the multidisciplinary Children’s team for the exceptional care Connor has received throughout the years, as well as for their continuing encouragement.
“Everyone at Children’s has been wonderful – from the physical therapists to the orthotists, doctors and technicians,” says Susan. “They have always showed a lot of interest in Connor, and have been his biggest cheerleaders. He has so much confidence now, and he feels there is nothing he can’t do.”
Connor plans to run as one of the hundreds of participants in Children’s Memorial’s Race for the Kids 5K Run/Walk on June 20 at Soldier Field, and will also serve as the ceremonial starter.
Story originally appeared in the May 2009 issue of Heroes Update.