Jake Bainter, now 9 years old, struggled to find his place until sports became a part of his life.
When Jodi and Brett Bainter talk about their young son Jake, you can hear the sigh of relief in their enthusiastic voices. At 9 years old, Jake is becoming part of a new world as an aspiring and talented young athlete. A few years ago, they could not possibly envision this outcome for their timid little boy.
On April 9, 2004 Jake was playing outside of his family’s Orlando home, riding his bike and taking a break to play with some of his toys near the outside of the house. Simultaneously, Brett was mowing the lawn and backed the mower into the spot where his son was playing. In an instant, their lives changed. The lawnmower amputated three toes on Jake’s right foot and damaged his right quadricep, femur and knee.
Following the accident, Jake spent 18 days at Arnold Palmer’s Children’s Hospital in Orlando. Here he underwent 10 surgeries — the beginning of a 4-year limb salvage effort that included additional surgeries that attempted to replace part of the femur that had been lost, which made it impossible for Jake to support himself.
With little success, the family faced the ultimate agonizing decision: should they move forward with amputation?
Jodi and Brett made sure that, despite his young age and no matter how hard it was to understand, Jake had a hand in making the decision.
“He once asked me, if it didn’t work, can they put my leg back on?” Jodi recalled of one of these difficult conversations.
In the end, the three decided to go ahead with a knee disarticulation and held on tight to the hopes of the best outcome.
The night before surgery, in February of 2008, Jodi and Brett were still on the fence about their decision.
“I asked for a sign,” Jodi told O&P Business News, remembering that sleepless night.
The next morning, the family got the sign they were seeking. On the way to the hospital, they saw Bill Hansbury – also an amputee – on the side of the road with his bicycle. Without a second thought, Brett swung the car around and they introduced themselves to Hansbury and explained Jake’s upcoming surgery.
“We call it a chance meeting,” Jodi said of the event. “He assured us that we were doing the right thing.”
Only time would tell if this decision was the right one, but looking back now, they have no doubts.
“I was tired of being in wheelchairs and casts,” Jake said about his life before amputation. “Now I can play all day with my friends and not get tired and my leg doesn’t hurt all the time.”
The Challenged Athletes Foundation
Following Jake’s amputation, the Bainters did not waste any time seeking out resources and the prosthetic care that Jake would require. They met Stan Patterson, CP of Prosthetic & Orthotic Associates in Orlando who introduced Jake to Scout Bassett, another one of his young patients who is also affiliated with the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF).
Learning about the organization through Bassett and Patterson, the Bainters decided to see what it was all about for themselves and attended the Aspen Medical Products San Diego Triathlon Challenge (SDTC) in 2008 on a grant given by the CAF. They knew they were in for an exciting weekend with more than 125 athletes in attendance but nothing could compare to seeing Jake flourish as he did.
“We cried all weekend,” Brett said of watching his son finally break out of his shell.
Jodi, equally emotional, explained that Jake always had a zest for life but was careful with his actions before his amputation. Fear of injury often sidelined him before but at the SDTC, specifically while participating in the Kids Run, he was “wide open because there was nothing to break that couldn’t be replaced.”
“They’ve opened a door that we didn’t know existed,” Jodi said about the CAF.
Jake, accompanied by his parents, is looking forward to attending the SDTC this year. He requested another grant to return to the events and make even more friends.
“It will be fun to do the Kids Run again this year,” Jake said when he was asked what he was most looking forward to. “I am running really good now.”
In addition to his running talents, Jake is also taking up water sports including knee-boarding and swimming. But most of all, he enjoys fishing.
“My favorite sport is fishing,” he said. “I fish pretty much every day on my lake.”
Jennifer Hoydicz is the managing editor of O&P Business News.