Thursday, September 3, 2015

Anthony Quinn: Running On Soul

I wrote compiled this article for the Southeast Texas Eventsbook in May of 2014 when Shelly Vitanza was kind enough to let me pretend to be a writer. The article is comprised of a candid diary written by Anthony's mother juxtapositioned against Anthony's answers about his life. The story speaks for itself. Anthony Quinn: Running on Soul
Anthony and his wonderful mother
Excerpt from Tony’s mother, Deborah Quinn’s Facebook note “G-d’s Voice”
My father was dying.  He had bone cancer.  Several days passed.  It was a quiet afternoon with Mark at work and Jared at school.  Tony had been napping in his crib and was just waking up.  I gathered him up, blankets and all, and laid him in my bed. I happened to think about a scar near his right eye.   I wondered if the scar was still there.  As my finger passed over the scar it was The Father’s voice I heard.  Not audibly, but as clear as any voice I have ever heard.  He said, “Only a mother’s love could find that scar.”  I never would have dreamed the storm that would shortly come. The things He told me, and taught me, were to become an anchor.  The lesson on that quiet afternoon would serve me well.

How long have you been running?
The 2013 Alamo City Run Fest in San Antonio Texas was my first competitive run.   They have an amputee division in that event and I finished fourth overall.  I wanted to return this year and win gold.

Preparing to run Pleasure Island Bridge Half Marathon
That was the only prayer I could pray.  I felt sure that the doctors were about to tell us Tony had cancer.  But what they couldn’t tell me was the thing I most wanted to know.  “Would my baby live?”
How old are you, where are you from?  Which sports do you play?
I'm 27 and was born and raised in Mauriceville, Texas.
Any sport a boy could possibly get involved in growing up in Southeast Texas.  My main sport would have to be basketball. My older brother, Jared, was always a star.  He helped win the 20-4A District Championship for LC-M in 1998.   I’ve always tried to be as good as he is.

Everyone always asks how we discovered that Tony had cancer.  In Tony's case it was discovered after an injury. He and Jared had been wrestling on the couch and Tony bumped his ankle against the coffee table.  The next day he was still wincing when I put on his shoe.  He started limping.  I made an appointment for the following day with our pediatrician. The afternoon of the appointment he fell while he was walking across the lawn.  He never cried that I remember, but he couldn’t support his weight.  His leg was x-rayed.  We were told the leg was broken, and that the x-ray showed a tumor- most probably benign, right above his left ankle. We were sent for a biopsy, which was inconclusive.  The cells they found were different from anything any of the doctors had ever seen.  We were then sent to M. D. Anderson Hospital in Houston.

How did you lose your leg?
I was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma when I was three and had my amputation some time around my fourth birthday at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

The room was very long, cold.  Mark and I walked across the recovery room to see our son.  I don’t remember seeing another stretcher in this massive place.  I suppose they were trying to give us some privacy.  Tony was still sleeping from the anesthesia.  He was pale, but breathing.  I looked down and saw how the sheet fell away past Tony’s left knee.  Saw the place empty where his ankle and foot should have been.  The amputation was over.  We made it through the day with the help of our friends and family.  And by the strength we took from Tony’s doctor, Dr. Jaffe.  We loved, and love, this man dearly.  He found us often during the course of that day.  He would look at us and say, “Courage my friends, courage.”   Just seeing him put steel in our spines.
Tell me about physical therapy.
Most of my memories of that time, and that's not saying a whole lot since I was three, had to do with being sick from chemo and not so much about physical therapy.  Since then, however, I have had a few revision surgeries on the bone due to growth and can speak more on that. I get a lot of questions about phantom pain but I don’t really remember it being that big of an issue for me. I remember feeling like my 'foot' itching once after surgery but that's all I can recall on the matter. One of the most frustrating parts of being an amputee in the beginning is forgetting you're missing a leg. I remember falling several times getting out of bed because I forgot I had to put on my prosthesis first. Landing on the end of your amputated tibia HURTS!

Anthony charging up the bridge 
As far as physical therapy, a very important thing that I was to do was help restore the nerves or 'feeling' to my leg. I remember this involved rubbing a towel on the distal end of my leg as if to dry. This practice was initially painfu, but eventually the nerves were restored. Standing up straight was also initially very painful because of all the blood going down into the limb. 

Crutches were a bit of a struggle for me. Primarily because I had to stand up straight to start, which, as stated was painful. Then I had to learn how to operate them. As it turns out walking on crutches with a missing leg is MUCH different. Also, there is a science to going up and down stairs on crutches and if you get the procedure wrong, well, good luck. The rest that I can remember in regards to physical therapy were basic leg strengthening exercises, balancing on those giant globe things, etc. etc. I am eternally grateful for the nurses, doctors and physical therapists at M.D. Anderson for their love and support during those times.

The day after the amputation would mean getting Tony out of bed and having him walk on crutches.  It was going to be horrible.  I knew it.  I also knew that I would have to be the bad guy.   And I knew he would fall.  It was as imagined, horrible.  I was tough, Tony was in pain and so tiny.  Four-year-olds should not be on crutches.  And he did fall.  And he was so angry.  Angry at me…for making him try.  And I was so angry with me.  I didn’t feel strong enough to do this.  Later that day, while Tony was sleeping and everyone else was gone, I sat in the window crying…angry crying…angry at everything and everybody.  And most especially, angry with God.

Anthony and his father
Who handled your life change the best? Good question. Probably me as I am sure it was an emotional thing for my parents to go through. I try to point out that because I was such a young age and don't remember too much that my whole experience with cancer, chemotherapy and recovery is really my parent's story.

I remember the colors, the children, and the parents.  I remember calling a friend, and being amazed that you could reach home by phone from this place.  It felt absolutely subterranean.  As if we’d crossed time zones and continents.  I was appalled at the brutality of this disease.  I can’t tell you how terrified I was, and we had barely crossed the threshold.  The house was a beehive…. activity everywhere.  Their bravery did not escape me.  Here were people cooking, laughing, playing, and talking.  It was as if children with disfigurements and IVs and wheelchairs and vomiting were all normal.  As if children dying were as common as a seashell lying in the sand.  

What’s your deepest, darkest secret about how this has changed your life?
I want to compete in the Paralympics, now. I want to win gold for the U.S. in both summer and winter Paralympics.

I remember a nurse coming in to tell us that they needed one more blood test.  I fell apart on the inside.  Tony was sitting on my lap while the phlebotomist drew the lab.  Tears were beginning to stream down my face, and Tony saw them.  After the blood sample was collected, Tony reached in the box and picked up a plastic flower finger ring.  “Here Mommy, for you” ...followed by a very sweet fish kiss.  This was the first glimpse at the strength and courage that God continues to pour into Tony’s heart.
When did you decide to live as fully as you can?
That question reminds me of that quote by William Wilberforce, "We were too young to know certain things are impossible... So we will do them, anyway." That's probably true in my case in that I was too young to know I was at any disadvantage whatsoever. I was always willing and able to participate in sports and be active. I was able to be active in large part because of Tom LeTourneau of LeTourneau's Prosthetics in Beaumont. He has given me the tools I need to continue to be active and confident in life. There aren't enough words that can express my gratitude for what Mr. LeTourneau has done for me over the years.
What was the most painful part of all of this?
Probably, the most painful part was the chemotherapy and being sick all the time. I remember throwing up a lot and having to deal with a pretty chest catheter. After I wasn't sick I was finally able to move on.

Day three post-op and I remember wondering what we were in for now.  Each day there seemed to be a new test we were expected to take.  Sure enough, the nurses announced that today would be the day we would take our child outside the building…something about becoming emotionally adjusted to the reactions of other people.  It would prove to be quite an experience.
I saw their reactions as we walked by them.  Tony in a wheelchair…Mark pushing, me walking alongside.  Lots of whispering, one man cried, most looked away only to look back when they thought we weren’t looking.  I was watching.  Lots of pity.  I hated it.

Where do you seek hope?
I'm very fortunate to have been brought up by a large and loving family. We had relatives, friends and church family that were all so helpful to us during that time. I have said many times that because I was so young I was just along for the ride and looked up to my parents and older brother. Now, I have hope that one day I won't need to put on my prosthesis. Meanwhile, my hope is in the many selfless people who are fighting to end cancer and those who are working day in and day out to help those of us who have survived live better lives.

I was walking behind Tony and Mark when I saw the bird.   The bird came round the tree and stood in front of us, cocking his head to one side.  We looked only to see that this particular bird was missing a foot and part of his leg.  Exactly like Tony.  The foot and left leg were missing in the same place as Tony’s. Tony said, “Mom that bird can’t walk anymore.”  The bird hopped within inches of us.  Tony was wide eyed.  “Mom, can I hop?”  “Yes, you can, Tony.”  Smile.  Huge.  The first in a long time.  “Mom, but he can’t run and play anymore, huh?”  At that, the bird hopped over to some others and they all began flapping their wings.  In Tony’s mind, they apparently were running and playing.  “He CAN run, and they’re playing with him.”
Tony’s still smiling.  “Can he fly, mom?”  No sooner had he asked, the bird flew, and perched in a branch just over our heads.  “He’s flying!”  I still was trying to believe we were watching this one legged bird when Mark said “That’s the scripture.”
“What?” I asked.  “
The scripture, flying, walking and running-it’s the verse from Isaiah.”  It was indeed.  A four-year-old wouldn’t have understood the scripture had you read it to him.  So here, God in His mercy played out the whole drama for him with a one legged bird.

How long did it take you to get your blade? How hard was it to learn to use it?
Because the prosthetics I had always used basically covered any activity, I wanted to do I didn't get my running blade until much later. The running leg that I currently use is the Ossur Flex-Run. It's not quite what the Paralympians use now but it the same type.  
It wasn't until 2013 that I discovered the Texas Regional Paralympics and began using it for competitions. I have to mention Texas Regional Games and Mrs. Wendy Gumbert for opening this amazing opportunity for me to compete in events with fellow amputees. Love you, Mrs. Wendy! Learning to run on one of these blades is extremely scary at first because you have no heel. The normal walking prosthesis that I wear contains features that help with balancing. Motion happens in several planes.  A small shift requires the cooperation of a complex network I don’t have in that area of my body. A running blade is made for going in just one direction and to do so really fast. I have to balance my speed and how far forward I lean just or I fall.  

I have only fallen once so far. Another issue is sweat. Sweat causes your leg to slip inside the prosthesis and if not addressed can come off completely. Dealing with this is important especially when running longer distances like a 5K. What's exciting about my upcoming running events, particularly, the Pleasure Island Bridge race, is that I am expecting a new one later this summer. It will allow me to run more smoothly and of course, faster.

People always try to add the moral to the end of the story.  I suppose it is an attempt to answer “why”.  People have said, “See, God allowed that in your life because He knew you were strong enough to handle it.”  I think it makes them feel better, as if nothing like this could ever happen to them because God reserves the hard things for the strong.  Yet the scripture says God chooses the weak things.  It says that we can do all things through Christ.  We all ask why.  Some are not brave enough to finish the question.  The question is “why me?  Why mine?”   At the root of question is a feeling of self-righteousness.  As if bad things happening to me/mine is an affront to my basic good nature as compared to someone else. The more I’ve thought about that question, the less I want to know the answer. Tony has taught me a better question.  “Why not me?”  You learn that question when you look into the face of a suffering child.  “Why not me?”

How did people react to you after your amputation?

I think my fellow classmates in Mrs. Tray's kindergarten class were curious about my situation but as could be expected their attention spans didn't last too long.

Best memories?

During my time playing basketball for Mauriceville Middle School (made the A-Team...that's right) I was able to use an already slipping prosthesis and flop for a foul (like a pro). I suppose it's hard not to call a foul when a player's leg comes off after contact. My happiest moments by far is when I have been in a wheelchair for a long period of time, usually due to revision surgery, and am able to finally take that first step again. It is an amazing feeling.

That is the answer I learned.  Yes.  God remains faithful.  I was so angry with Him.  I would be ashamed to tell you some of the things I’ve said to Him…accused Him of.   
I do believe that the things we experienced were the result of prayer.   Keep praying…it inspires a great God to place angels on elevators, weave dreams in the heart of a sleeping child and so much more. God sustains the flight of eagles.  He whispers, “Fly, child!” to the small and frail.

Does your blade have a nickname?
Nope. When I fall I usually call it a number of things though.

Talk about technology and its impact on amputees.
Technology is allowing not just amputees but individuals with all different kinds of physical disabilities. One of my favorite upcoming technologies is one that will allow certain amputees to feel heat/cold in their hands/arms. We are very fortunate to live in the times we do where technology is really taking off. I think the most important thing for an amputee or physically challenged individual to have is a good attitude. No amount of technology is going to help you if you have no zest for life. Once you make up your mind that you're going to fight through whatever it is that life has thrown at you then you'll be able to appreciate the advancements we've made in technology and comfort.

What is the one thing you want to tell the world about who you are?
I'm a believer in that whatever trials we go through that God still has a purpose for our lives.

There are times when He speaks not only to the place where you are, but also to the place He knows you are going.  …things that seem to have no bearing at present, but things you must know, must remember on the path that unwinds before you. This God of wonders gives wings even to the obviously broken of us.

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