Getting Nolan Back on the Baseball Field After Osteosarcoma
When 8-year-old baseball player Nolan was diagnosed with cancer in his femur, his family turned to the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s for life-saving cancer care and pediatric sports physical therapy to help get him back in the game.
A bionic 8-year-old boy who defeats a villain named Venom? Sounds like something straight out of an action-packed blockbuster. For Nolan, it’s just something he had to overcome to get back to his preferred kind of action: playing baseball.
When Nolan’s parents, Scott and KellyAnn, had started to notice that their son was having trouble running the bases at baseball practice, they thought he had pulled a hamstring. Soon, his pain worsened to the point where his teacher called home to say that Nolan could barely walk. The family was referred to an orthopedist, and after some x-rays and an MRI, which revealed a mass on his femur, Nolan was sent to Children’s for a biopsy.
Nolan was 8 years old when he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. Scott and KellyAnn were faced with the difficult task of trying to explain cancer to Nolan and his sister, Mac. KellyAnn says, “We wanted to give the cancer a name, but neither of the children knew what cancer really meant or how scary that is.” So when Nolan suggested they call his tumor “Venom,” it was a done deal. “We nicknamed it ‘Venom,’ like the bad superhero we were gonna go in and get out,” Scott says.
Nolan started chemotherapy right away, and wasted no time building up to hero status. Even while going through treatments, Nolan literally stepped up to the plate—going to baseball practices with a walker while awaiting surgery. He played games with tubes hanging out under his jersey. He was unstoppable.
“His tumor was located in his hip. To remove the tumor, you have to take a good part of the bone so that you have clear margins, so there’s no tumor left behind,” says Dr. Jorge Fabregas, the orthopedic surgeon who treated Nolan. “So when you remove that tumor, there’s a significant deficit that’s left there. And in his case, it was his hip.”
And that’s when Nolan was implanted with a device that would complete his transformation into a bionic, baseball-playing superhero. Nolan’s femur was replaced with an expandable titanium device that his doctors can lengthen as he grows. “It’s an endoprosthesis, and it’s essentially grandma’s total hip, but on steroids. And for a kid that’s going to be growing, it has to be able to lengthen with him,” Dr. Fabregas says.
What truly makes Nolan a superhero is simply his unbreakable spirit and resilience. “He didn’t want to be treated differently. There were days he would come home from chemotherapy at midnight, and he would go to school the next day. He wanted to go,” KellyAnn says.
“He just exudes positivity,” says Rob Riesing, a sports medicine physical therapist at Children’s who has been working with Nolan. “He wasn’t sure if he would ever walk again. He defied all the odds. And just to put that smile on his face and have the positive attitude he does—that’s why Nolan’s the miracle kid.”
For Nolan, it always comes back around to baseball. He says, “There’s this one game we had and we were down by a lot, and we just really pushed through it and we actually won the game. So that kind of relates to the hospital—there’s always a chance, and you can do it.”
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Bringing your child to a Children’s physical therapist means that you’re now part of a team of highly qualified, skilled and experienced pediatric sports medicine specialists. Every team member is dedicated to getting the kids back to doing the things they love most.Learn More