Ben Baltz, now 14-years-old, was tragically diagnosed with osteosarcoma at age six. His parents were devastated by the news and even more chagrined when doctors informed them that the only way to effectively treat the cancer was through amputation. A whirlwind quickly ensued, especially since osteosarcoma is such an unpublicized disease, that was ultimately filled with hope and strength.
Osteosarcoma is a bone cancer that occurs in approximately 3% of children. It’s a fairly aggressive cancer which begins within the bone and then spreads, sometimes even latching onto the lungs. Osteosarcoma develops from the osteoblasts, which are the cells that assist bone growth. Occasionally, there will be a defect within the DNA causing cancer to form and spread. Typically osteosarcoma is seen in children who have recently gone through a growth spurt as the osteoblasts are raging during this time. It’s fairly easy to recognize this disease as your child’s limb will begin to swell or break due to the weakening of the bone. Treatment is fairly aggressive with chemotherapy being the go-to solution followed by a surgery to remove the affected bone, culminating in a final round of chemo. In many cases, the surgery is fairly conservative, but there are times, as seen in Ben’s case, where amputation is the only option (Kids Health).
Burst of Hope
That’s where Ben comes in. At age six, Ben had to undergo a surgery that most of us will never experience or fully understand. Not even knowing what cancer was, six-year-old Ben had his lower right leg amputated. For a very active child, this could have been crippling both mentally and physically. However, Ben found a deep well of strength, and a year later he received the greatest gift of all – a prosthetic. And from that moment forward he has dipped in and out of the spotlight: befriending a three-legged pony, being carried across a finish line when his prosthetic failed, and, most recently, holding his father’s hand as he competed in his tenth triathlon.
Because of his viral popularity, he has been able to impact countless children and adults across the globe. Not only has he survived his battle with cancer, but he’s thriving and growing in the sports arena.
“I never thought I would ever get cancer — never had heard of cancer until I got it — and never thought I would be able to keep participating in triathlons,” Ben said. “But all of those came out to be true and here I am — cured of cancer, running, biking, swimming and even surfing. My amputation hasn’t stopped me, or even slowed me down. It only brought me obstacles, all of which I have overcome” (Today).
If that’s not some inspirational 14-year-old wisdom, then I don’t know what is. Ben’s father, JC, describes his son as being an inspiration not only to disabled athletes but to himself as well. There is nothing more motivating than pushing through a vigorous run and not giving up because you know that someone out there has it worse off than you, yet they are still able to persevere and succeed.
About That Photo
In 2013, Ben and JC were competing in a triathlon when it began pouring down rain. Ben was starting to feel fatigued as he was racing up a hill. In a moment of pure effort and exhaustion, JC grasped his son’s hand to give him the added boost he needed to conquer that slippery slope. That’s when the viral photo of Ben and JC was captured and since then it has resurfaced sparking the conversation of prosthetics. Ben and thousands of other people have been able to live everyday lives, filled with sports and other recreational activities. The necessity of health coverage for these amazing prosthetics has never been more crucial. What better gift could a person receive than the ability to continue living their lives normally? Ben has confronted many obstacles but never once has he given up. Even in this time of spotlight he continues to shy away from the camera, directing the attention to all of the other children and adults who deserve just as much admiration as he himself has received. This boy is one amazing human and gives us amazing hope for our future in both medicine and technology.