Mack is also a cancer survivor and amputee, but that becomes an afterthought in his day-to-day. He runs everywhere.
“He doesn't walk anywhere anymore,” his mom Amanda says. “If we don’t break the prosthetics, we outgrow them. The prosthetic place has a warranty on them now.” But at age 6, Mack made a decision that would impact whether he would ever run again.
Mack hoped to play basketball during the fall season of 2014. But what began as leg pain developed into a knot. And then what was thought to be a bone infection was diagnosed as Ewing sarcoma, bone cancer. Mack had already been spent a month in the hospital.
“We always heard St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is the best place for children’s cancer, so we didn’t really question the referral when we got it,” Amanda said. Mack was in multi-organ failure by the time he arrived via air ambulance to St. Jude on Christmas Eve. He hadn’t moved in two weeks.
“His system was shutting down,” Amanda recalled. “He was yellow from jaundice, his kidneys had stopped. Come to find out my child cannot have antibiotics at all.”
“St. Jude started that night trying to make him better,” Amanda said. “That just shows how much they care about the kids there.” After arriving at St. Jude, Mack mustered the strength to ask that his Christmas gifts be sent to his three younger siblings: Jacob, Sarah and Emily.
St. Jude identified that Mack had DRESS syndrome, an adverse reaction to medications such as antibiotics, which is rarely discovered in children. After his care team stopped antibiotics, his body began to recover quickly. He then endured 14 rounds of chemotherapy and eight months of uncertainty about whether he’d be able to keep his leg.
St. Jude has a team of experts who perform limb-sparing procedures in children with bone tumors such as Ewing sarcoma, but in some cases amputation is necessary to ensure the tumor is completely removed. Mack’s parents were hopeful their choice would provide his best chance at survival, and a more active life.
“We talked to Mack about it, even though he was only 6,” says Amanda. “We really left it up to him and went over both surgeries and, in the end, he accepted it before we did. He said, ‘Mom, it's sick, just chop it off. After this leg is gone I can run again.’ He, his dad and I knew this was the best for him, but deep down I was so sad for him.”
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“The first thing I wanted to do was play basketball when I got out of surgery,” Mack says now. Less than 24 hours post-amputation, he was ready to take his first steps. Hooked up to every kind of monitor imaginable and still an inpatient at St. Jude, Mack walked around his own hospital bed in disbelief at his accomplishment. “I’m doing it?” he asked in a small voice.
Mack is now done with cancer treatment and has adjusted to life with a prosthetic. On a Monday night after a long day of school and homework, Mack plays three out of four quarters in his game. Frustration turns his face red when he misses a free throw, exertion keeps him sweaty. Running in that prosthetic must be grueling, but Mack doesn’t cut his game short. He goes the full length of the court, back and forth, over and over.
Mack keeps his eyes on the ball and his hands up, waving. He’s open.
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