Lauren Harrell and her husband, Clint, were thrilled to be welcoming a baby boy into their family. After a normal pregnancy, Zachary was born, but there were some unexpected complications.
“He wasn’t producing platelets, he was missing bones in his forearms and his legs were malformed at the knees,” said Lauren. “He was diagnosed with thrombocytopenia-absent radius (TAR) syndrome, which is a very rare condition.”
Zach spent time in the NICU and required several blood transfusions. Once he was able to go home with his family, he began physical and occupational therapy while still an infant. Meanwhile, his parents crisscrossed the United States from their home in California, seeking advice from over 30 different orthopedic physicians across the country.
“As Zach grew, the bones in his legs were rotating, and his feet were beginning to point backwards,” said Lauren. “The consensus from all the experts was to amputate above Zach’s knees.”
The amputations took place when Zach was 18 months old. Six weeks later, Zach received his first prosthetics and stood unassisted for the first time, just eight weeks after the surgery. As he learned to use his prosthetics, he continued his physical therapy with the same therapist he had been seeing since he was a baby.
When Zach was 7 years old, the family relocated from California to the Houston, Texas, area. Lauren, a trauma ER nurse, began working for Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center.
“I heard great things about TIRR Memorial Hermann, so Zach began going to occupational and physical therapy at TIRR Memorial Hermann – The Woodlands,” said Lauren. “He quickly phased out of needing occupational therapy, and he sees Trevor Watson for physical therapy. Trevor made the transition easy, and made therapy fun for Zach.”
TIRR Memorial Hermann’s Amputee and Limb Loss Program offers an interdisciplinary team approach to limb loss throughout the patient’s journey. Initially, Trevor and Zach worked on standing and switching weight from one leg to another. They played catch to work on Zach’s sense of balance.
“Zach has always been an absolute joy to work with,” said Trevor Watson, PT, DPT, CBIS. “He loves all the same things that I did when I was his age—which made choosing exercises easy! When he first started to learn how to use his ‘tall legs’ (prosthetics with a functional knee component, unlike his other ‘short’ prosthetic legs), it was a challenge for him. We initially used a harness setup to support his body weight to increase his confidence while practicing balance and walking drills. We play a lot of Wii games which challenge his balance, we do baseball throws to knock cones over, bean bag tossing and more. And he is SUPER competitive.”
Today, Zach is 9 years old and in the fourth grade. He loves video games and participates in a year-round swim team. The family is very involved with the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which provides opportunities and support to people with physical challenges, so they can pursue active lifestyles through physical fitness and competitive athletics.
“Zach continues to see Trevor for physical therapy every week,” said Lauren “As he grows, he will continue to need new legs every six to nine months.”
Trevor adds that he learns as much from Zach during their sessions as Zach learns from him. “He only talks about what he CAN do—never what he CANNOT do,” said Trevor. “He is an inspiration to those around him because he does not doubt his abilities. He tries and tries again until he accomplishes his goal.”
For the 34th consecutive year, TIRR Memorial Hermann is recognized as the best rehabilitation hospital in Texas and No. 4 in the nation according to U.S. News and World Report's "Best Rehabilitation Hospitals" in America.Learn More
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