It is the tone of Keith Klein’s voice that tells all. It tells of a mother and father who have nurtured and encouraged their son. And the pride that now resonates as his son Tomas, 6 years old and a bilateral through-the-knee amputee, continues to amaze those around him with his upbeat attitude and can-do mindset, is almost palpable. But most of all, Keith Klein’s voice seems to offer a sense of relief. Relief that his son can run and climb and jump, just like the other kids.
Tomas Klein was born without tibae, otherwise known as “bilateral absent-tibia.” After conferring with doctors, Keith and his wife Bea agreed the best course of action was to amputate, as Tomas would not have been able to walk otherwise. He was fitted for his first set of prostheses when he was a little over 1 year old. Since that time, the Kleins have been hard pressed to keep up with Tomas, who Keith describes as, “an active young boy, just like all the rest. … He’s running around and chasing his friends just like everybody else.”
It seems that wherever he goes, Tomas is met with positive reactions from those who don’t expect to see a bilateral amputee running to get everywhere.
“We get a lot of attention, of course, as you see Tomas come bounding down the street. A lot of people stop and have a look. A lot of people ask questions. And by far, the majority of attention we get is really positive. It stops people in their tracks. You see their eyes get big and [they] say, ‘Wow, look at this kid go,’” Keith said.
Yet, as is often the case with any amputee, Tomas does have moments when he realizes his differences and has questions for his parents. According to Keith, being open about everything is key.
“We’ve always been very open. When he would ask questions, we would talk to him about it. Sometimes he expresses frustration, but it’s more just matter-of-fact conversations where he asks about it and we explain, ‘What you had, you couldn’t walk with. We decided with the doctors that this was the way that you could walk, so you could run around and play with all your friends,’” Keith said. “As little kids are, they kind of move onto the next thing, but [the questions] come back and we talk about it. Sometimes it’s no problem and other times it bothers him. I think that just proves he’s human like the rest of us.”
For Keith, one of the ways to answer some of those difficult questions was to show Tomas that he is not alone. It was during one of Keith’s searches to find answers for Tomas, as well as his own desire to better understand what Tomas’ life would be like, that he was introduced to the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF). After being introduced to the Frank family in North Dakota in 2005, whose son Jake was also a bilateral amputee and just a few years older than Tomas, Keith learned about the San Diego Triathlon Challenge, put on by CAF.
“We had heard from the Frank family and just decided to get in touch with CAF and see what the organization was about and next thing we knew, we were on our way out to San Diego for the first time, just Tomas and I.”
Tomas and Keith’s trip out to the San Diego Triathlon Challenge in October 2005 was just the beginning of the Kleins’ relationship with CAF. Although difficult for Keith to notice at the time, Tomas, who was 4 years old at the time of their first trip to California, was a different person when he returned.
“My motivation [for the trip] was that in his day-to-day life he doesn’t see anyone else like him. As far as he knew, he was the only person in the world that was like that. I thought it would be a good opportunity to start to introduce him and let him see that he’s not alone, there are lots of people who have an issue, that have a problem. I thought that if he could get out there and see other kids in sort of a sports setting that he would find it really interesting and it could be a nice example for him – it gave him something to strive for, so he could say ‘If they can do that, I can do that, too.’”
The athletic setting of the CAF event was especially important for Keith and Bea, who are both avid cyclists. The entire family, including Tomas’ younger brother Kieran, returned to San Diego in October 2006 and plan to go again this year. The experience, initially tabbed as a way for Tomas to meet other amputees, also served as inspiration for his parents. In 2006, Keith and Bea organized a 300-mile bike ride from Paris to their home in Belgium, which was held during the course of 3 days in July 2006. The grueling, Tour de France-like fundraiser was a way for the Kleins to combine two of their passions – cycling and helping disabled athletes. The 2006 ride raised $8,000, which was donated to CAF.
The Kleins held the event again this past July, with the money this year being earmarked for challenged athletes in Europe, which encouraged the Kleins’ local community to contribute even more, according to Keith. He believes that the hard work is worth it and hopes to bring help to disabled athletes in a way similar to CAF, albeit on a much smaller scale. The Kleins’ desire to give back is inspired by their appreciation for an organization like CAF.
“I think the biggest benefit [of CAF] is for a young kid to see what is possible. For Tomas to go there [San Diego] and to see his eyes really open up, so that he could feel like he was part of a group and he could see an example of what these people can do, it really gives [him] an idea of what is possible,” Keith said. “The access that CAF is able to provide, with different types of equipment, be it a sports wheelchair or prosthesis [is a benefit], but to me it is more. It’s about what they can see is possible.”
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Andrew Kelly is the assistant editor for O&P Business News.