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Teen waits for bone transplant years after childhood accident

February 10, 2012

Kathleen and James David spend quality time together at their home with their dog, Maggie.

HAMLET — James David, a 16-year-old sophomore at Oregon-Davis High School, has missed a lot of school this year. He started feeling intense pain in his leg during the fall semester, and the pain is now so bad that he cannot stand without the help of a brace.
“I’m out of school for the rest of this year, we’re pretty sure,” said James grimly.
After visiting many doctors, James learned that his talus, a bone in the ankle, had collapsed and will no longer hold his weight. The situation is the aftermath of an accident involving James’ foot being nearly cut in half by a tractor when he was seven years old. At the time, his foot was repaired with surgery and James was able to continue playing baseball and avoid taking pain medication. But recently, the pain flared up again — and this time, things won’t be so easy.
James needs a bone transplant, a procedure so advanced that it’s only done in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and North Carolina. Kathleen David, James’ mother and a nurse at Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center in Plymouth, said that the procedure is expected to cost about $50,000. Unfortunately, Kathleen’s insurance won’t cover the cost of the transplant, which will involve replacing James’ collapsed talus with a bone from a cadaver.
Kathleen and James traveled to Duke Hospital in North Carolina last weekend for a consultation and preliminary paperwork for the surgery. They stayed at the Ronald McDonald house nights and spend hours each day going through grueling testing and meetings with doctors. Kathleen’s coworkers prepared a care package for the family before they left, including snacks and gas gift cards.
“They paid for more than half of the gas to get there,” said Kathleen, smiling. “And we had plenty of snacks.”
James is now on the waiting list for a cadaver bone, which could take between 30 and 170 days to arrive. Once a bone is found, it will go through three weeks of infection and disease testing, and will then be sterilized. Then Kathleen and James will have five days to get to the hospital for the surgery. Following the surgery, James will have to have his “toes above the nose” for two weeks, and then won’t be able to put weight on his leg for another 12 weeks. Without the surgery, however, his leg would likely have to be amputated.
Amid all the chaos, James’ most keenly felt disappointment is the loss of his favorite sport.
“I’ve played baseball for 14 years, and I can’t play baseball anymore,” said James. “I cried when I was told that.”
He’s also being temporarily denied every 16-year-old’s favorite pastime — driving.
“I sat here, in this chair, for three days studying,” said James, pointing to the dining room chair he was sitting in. “I read the (driver’s manual) from cover to cover. I took hundreds of practice tests online. And I passed the test, I only missed one question. And now I’m not driving.”
Despite the hardships of his situation, James is keeping a sense of humor. He’s on a special diet in order to keep his weight down before the surgery, and he’s been eating a lot of a Green Giant brand medley of vegetables. When his mom complained about how expensive the vegetables were, James called Green Giant to ask if they could send him some for free. He explained his situation, and the company representative offered him four $1 off coupons.
“She said that normally they only give out two (coupons), but given my situation they would send me four,” said James incredulously.
Kathleen has created a website to try to raise donations to help with James’ surgery. It’s been up for a couple of weeks and the family has already seen some response. They’ve done everything they can to raise awareness of James’ condition, including holding a sign with the website address in their recent Best Loser team photo at the LifePlex. Even Kathleen’s ex-husband is helping to spread the word by passing out fliers at his workplace.
“(James’) pain is always at a seven,” said Kathleen. “But it’s tolerable. The pain goes up quickly when he tries to walk.”
While they wait for a bone, James is attempting to keep up with his schoolwork at home. It’s been difficult since OD is a New Tech school — most of the work is designed to be done in groups. He’s determined not to fall behind, however. If all goes well, he could be back in school by the start of the 2012-13 year.

To learn more about James and his situation, or to donate, visit www.liftjamesup.webstarts.com/index.html

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