July 20, 2011 9:09 PM
VALPARAISO — Ben Baltz is about to reach yet another milestone in his young life.
He’s going to summer camp in Ohio.
The camp will not only give the 9-year-old plenty of opportunity to swim and canoe, but also test his sense of adventure with zip lines, rock walls and elevated obstacle courses.
What makes the upcoming camp special is not just the activities, but that every child attending, including Ben, is an amputee.
Ben was pleased to talk about the activities at the camp, but said it didn’t really make much difference to him that everyone there had also had a limb amputated.
“I think Ben is just looking forward to hanging out,” said his mother, Kim Baltz.
Ben’s right leg was amputated in March 2008 after he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer.
He was only 6 years old at the time. Kim said removing the leg and allowing him to get a prosthetic one made the most sense, given how much Ben enjoys sports and physical activity in general. If they had kept the leg, all he could have done was walk.
“He was our little athlete,” Kim said with a smile as she watched her son try to sit still Tuesday afternoon.
About two years after Ben was diagnosed and went through treatment, he was fitted with a carbon fiber running blade. The doors then just opened up for him.
He started running with his classmates in track and joined the PAL soccer team. The only trouble was the running blades couldn’t always keep up with Ben.
Since he received the first one in August 2009, he has gone through 10. Some broke while he was running, others while he was playing soccer and one while he was jumping, Ben said.
One of the most memorable times was when he broke one during a soccer game last fall just before he was supposed to compete in a triathlon.
Duct tape was used to try to hold it together.
“It made it through the soccer game, (but) failed at the triathlon,” said Ben, who then added with a grimace, “epically failed.”
But “light leg,” as he calls his regular prosthetic, doesn’t typically give Ben much problem, and most of his classmates at Lewis School no longer give it a second thought.
“The kindergartners and the first-graders are the only ones (who look at it),” Ben said. “They just stare at it and sometimes they ask a question, but I just ignore them.”
In fact, Ben can climb trees and bound around the yard with the best of them these days, and that’s exactly how his parents want it to be.
“When I look at Ben I don’t see that prosthetic leg, I honestly don’t,” Kim said. “He’s an able-bodied kid.”
His parents encourage him, just like their two older children, to go out and earn what he wants and not to see his prosthetic as a handicap.
At the same time, they don’t ignore it. Ben frequently visits with other children suffering from the same type of cancer to give them hope and show that limb amputation doesn’t mean life can’t be normal.
Because of his story and his clear determination, Ben was recently featured on an electronic billboard in Times Square in New York to help raise awareness and money for childhood cancer research.
The billboard had a picture of Ben on his prosthetic leg after chemotherapy when he didn’t have any hair. The ad ran about every 40 minutes from April through June, Kim said.
The family took a trip to see the billboard, but Ben mostly shrugged it off.
“It was hard to get it right when it was on,” Ben said. “So we’d stand out there and wait until it’d come on.”
After they saw it a couple of times, Ben was done.
“I thought it would have been a lot longer,” he said.
As to what will come after camp, Ben’s trying to figure out a way to get involved in football and looking forward to the near future when he’s finished with follow-up visits with doctors.
For now, he’s still going every six months. Soon it will be only once a year, Kim said.
“And then we’ll be done,” Ben said as he picked up a football to go outside and play.
All at the DOUGLAS BADER FOUNDATION wish you the best of luck, Ben. We’re sure that, with your courage, determination and gutsy attitude, you’re an inspiration to other children with cancer or who have had to have limbs amputated whatever the reason.amputate, amputee, Ben Baltz, bone cancer, cancer research, chemotherapy, Douglas Bader, osteosarcoma, prosthetic