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Bone ailment sidelines Pasco youth

Friends, from left, Stephen Neumar, 11, Nick Stephens, 9, Keith Mitchell, 11, and Ethan Holmes, 7, play on Tuesday.


Friends, from left, Stephen Neumar, 11, Nick Stephens, 9, Keith Mitchell, 11, and Ethan Holmes, 7, play on Tuesday.

HUDSON — Ethan Holmes has been at war with his body since he was a year old.

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Seizures when he was 14 months old. Sinusitis. Asthma.

One day this spring, the 7-year-old complained of leg pain. Then came the limp.

A doctor diagnosed Ethan with Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, which causes the hip bone to die.

Ethan is in a wheelchair for a year to allow his tiny body to heal itself. While he recovers, Miechelle Holmes is hoping for a Christmas gift she can't afford to buy her son. Something that would allow him to explore the world around him without leaving his wheelchair.

"If he had a home computer," said Holmes, 38, "I'd be so grateful."

• • •

Miechelle moved to Florida from Michigan in 1998, to be closer to her family in Hudson.

She worked at a gas station and later at a day labor job, where she met Ethan's father. The two dated and Miechelle eventually got pregnant. The couple broke up, and Ethan was born on May 3, 2001.

A year later, Ethan started having seizures. Doctors told his mother that his brain was too big for his skull, so they removed a quarter-sized piece of it to relieve pressure in his head. The seizures stopped.

But the boy's medical problems didn't end there. He sometimes had bouts with asthma and sinusitis, both of which he had been born with.

Even so, his mother said he was "all boy," spending his free time catching lizards and bugs near his Hudson home.

As his kindergarten year at Northwest Elementary came to an end this past spring, Ethan started having pains in his right leg. He also developed a limp.

"He'd say, 'Mom, my leg hurts,'" Miechelle recalled.

A doctor said Ethan's femur, or thigh bone, was abnormal on an X-ray. Normally the highest part of the thighbone is the shape of a half moon. Ethan's was flatter, and more closely resembled a mushroom.

An orthopedist diagnosed him with Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, a kind of hip bone degeneration that affects about 15 out of 100,000 people.

"For some unknown reason, the blood supply to the round part of the child's hip gets disrupted," said Dr. Harry Kim, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon who now treats Ethan at Tampa Shriners Hospital. "When there's no blood supply, the bone in the area dies."

Kim said doctors are unsure what triggers the disease or how to cure it, but early detection is key.

The area around the dead bone is live tissue that will try to heal itself, he said. But that takes time.

In September Kim suggested the most common form of treatment for Ethan: Let the legs and hips heal themselves while Ethan uses a wheelchair for about a year.

"It was very upsetting to me," said Miechelle. "It's been overwhelming. I felt so bad for him."

Kids and teachers at school were understanding.

Even so, life in a wheelchair proved difficult for Ethan. He had a hard time getting up from the couch when he sat down. And sometimes, his mother had to help him put on his socks, because bending hurt.

Even worse, Miechelle said, is Ethan's mood on days when his leg causes him pain.

"He'll tell me life has got him down," Miechelle said. "It's tough to hear that from a 7-year-old."

• • •

Ethan's pains were familiar for Miechelle, who dealt with a similar problem when she was 8. She had leg pains so severe that she had to wear a brace and have her legs put in traction for six weeks.

Doctors never diagnosed her with the disease that Ethan has, and are unsure if Ethan's problems are related to hers.

"I feel so sorry for him, because for a little kid, he's had his share," said Carol Wolff, Ethan's grandmother. "I try to spend as much time with him as I can."

Some of that time is spent doing things Ethan can do without leaving his wheelchair.

He rolls the ball in kickball games with the other kids until his arms get tired. He goes fishing on the docks of Hudson Beach with his mother.

A few weeks ago, he caught two mango snappers, Miechelle said.

"Even with him being in a wheelchair," Miechelle said, "he seems to adapt pretty well to it."

Now, Ethan's mother wants to buy him a computer for Christmas. She bought him one last year, but it crashed just before last Christmas.

Miechelle and Ethan stay with Wolff and live off Wolff's income delivering newspapers and off Ethan's disability checks. Miechelle occasionally works on the paper route, too, but doesn't make enough to buy another computer.

But with a computer, Miechelle said, Ethan could play games and find activities to occupy his time while he recuperates in the wheelchair.

"He's been hounding me to get him a computer," she said, "and if I could get him one, I would be grateful."

fast facts

How to help

Ethan's mother, Miechelle Holmes, can be reached at (727) 226-0602.

Bone ailment sidelines Pasco youth 12/23/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 8:51pm]
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