ATLANTA - In his decade of life, one Athens boy has dealt with more than his share of challenges.
Henry Shepherd, a 3rd grader at Malcom Bridge Elementary School, was diagnosed with a rare cancer that led to the amputation of his right leg. Yet through this whole grueling ordeal, Henry has stayed positive.
He's determined to run again. Thanks to a special procedure called a rotationplasty, that goal is within Henry's reach. Henry's nightmare began two years ago when he started having pain in his right leg.
"When I was at soccer games and practices I couldn't run and walk well. I started to limp on the field," Henry told us.
"We took Henry and his brother to a football game. Throughout the game Henry was complaining about his leg. He couldn't stand up without help. I had to carry him back home after the game," Henry's dad Scott Shepherd said.
Henry went to the hospital for tests.The diagnosis was osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that often strikes children. He needed months of chemotherapy treatments.
"It was really tough telling Henry he had cancer. There are all sorts of connotations coming up when you hear that word and you tell your child that. So as we got into it, Henry was worried about losing his hair. Then we had to come in just a few weeks later and say, 'It’s not just your hair. We are going to have to make a decision on removing part of your leg," said Scott Shepherd.
Henry had a tumor above his right knee. His family was presented with three options.
"There's an amputation, there's what they call limb salvage and what Henry has is called a rotationplasty. We explained to Henry what each option meant and the pros and cons of each one. Henry came to the conclusion that the rotationplasty would allow him to maintain an active lifestyle," Mr. Shepherd said.
During a rotationplasty, the middle part of the leg including the knee is removed. The foot is turned backwards and reattached, so the ankle becomes a knee. It helps patients better control their prosthetics so they can play sports.
Henry had the surgery last March. Although it was a success, he still suffered a disappointing setback.
"He actually fell out of his bed at home during treatment and fractured the rotationplasty ankle. He had to be casted for months. We were not able to get fitted for the prosthesis until that was healed," Henry's mom Carrie Shepherd said.
Now Henry's been working hard on his physical therapy at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. He's able to walk without a walker, and wants to one day run and play sports. Video technology allows Henry to simulate being part of a soccer game, to work on strength, balance and agility.
"When he was sick and in bed with chemo he was like, 'Really? Do we have to do this?' And I'm like, 'Yeah, unfortunately.' Now when he comes in here, he's not using his walker. It's amazing," said Jill Cannoy, a physical therapist who works with Henry.
Henry is getting back to just being a kid. Every three months he undergoes scans to make sure the cancer has not returned. So far, he's been given the all clear.
Henry's dad hopes his son will look back on the challenges he's overcome, and realize there is nothing he can't accomplish.
Actress Jennifer Garner was so impressed with Henry and his positive attitude that she decided to stop by Children's Healthcare of Atlanta to visit him during one of his chemo treatments. She had been in Georgia filming a movie at the time.