Joseph D No Challenge is too Large for Joseph Dunlop

“He would walk as if all of his body weight leaned on his legs.” said Stephanie, Joseph’s mom. “He looked strained and crooked, but never complained of severe pain.”

No challenge is too large for Joseph Dunlop, who despite being born with special healthcare needs, lives life to his full potential.

Joseph was born with low muscle tone throughout his entire body and experienced developmental delays as he grew older. His parents noticed that his walking was abnormal in his adolescent years, but it became concerning when Joseph was about 14 years old. They noticed, specifically, that when he walked, his gait was completely off. Joseph would walk by placing his left knee behind his right knee when taking a step.

“He would walk as if all of his body weight leaned on his legs.” said Stephanie, Joseph’s mom. “He looked strained and crooked, but never complained of severe pain.”

Stephanie took her son to his primary care physician to determine what was going on. After a routine check-up and some further analysis of his legs, it was recommended that Joseph see an orthopedic specialist to best determine a plan of care. At their first visit, the orthopedist recommended physical therapy to heal his growing pains. He was told that orthotics and PT would drastically help his condition.

Throughout the summer of 2019, Joseph worked diligently in physical therapy sessions to walk with less strain on his lower limbs. However, his condition deteriorated again by Fall when he faced the challenge of navigating the crowded high school hallways. The environment eventually became unsafe for him, despite having the assist of a walker and extra time to get to and from classes.

During a follow up with the orthopedic specialist, it was ultimately decided that he undergo surgery.

The Road to Recovery

The work then began. Joseph’s care team started his treatment with a gait analysis early in 2020. However, rising cases of COVID-19 put his surgery and further care on hold for weeks with no end in sight.

Considering the pandemic, the Dunlop family did not want to wait any longer for Joseph’s treatment. Stephanie illustrates moments that were “horrible to watch,” like when her son would lean onto walls to walk and struggle to get dressed.

By Summer, Joseph and his family decided to continue treatment with the approval and agreement of his care team. Leading up to his surgery, the team did further imaging and analyses which revealed that Joseph’s bones were spiraling, rather than growing straight. This was uncommon, and unlike anything his family had imagined.

“His bones were spiraled like rotini pasta,” said Stephanie. “But Joseph never complained of pain. This was his norm, so nothing was ever ‘off’ for him.”

In August 2020, Joseph finally underwent the corrective surgery he needed to get better. Surgeons broke bones in his lower and upper legs which they needed to reconstruct in order for him to walk normally. Physicians did not know fully what they would find when going in, but ultimately, the surgery was deemed successful.

Joseph’s reconstructive surgery was the beginning to a new journey towards his recovery. In fact, his surgeon recommended that he continue that journey at Children’s Specialized Hospital (CSH) in New Brunswick, where he would work on regaining strength in his legs to walk and become active again.

The Next Phase

While nervous to be admitted to an inpatient facility, especially during a pandemic, Joseph’s family was comforted knowing that one of their family members was treated at the same hospital years earlier.

“It made me feel better talking to someone who had gone through it before us,” said Stephanie.

Joseph’s mom also shared that upon arrival, staff at Children’s Specialized Hospital provided “a great deal of education and support” and added that “without that, it would have been very hard for us to adjust.”

Joseph DunlopShe also said that what made Joseph most excited for his extended stay at Children’s Specialized Hospital was Burton – the hospital’s facility dog that works with patients on a variety of recreational therapy needs. After first meeting him through a virtual tour, Joseph was greeted by his new furry friend within the first few days of his stay.

While he took baby steps at first, Stephanie noticed major progress in her son after being away from him a few days at a time. She said, “I would always come back to something major, and once he finally felt good enough to spend time in the Rec Room, we never saw him!”

During his time at CSH, Joseph enjoyed interacting with people the most. He especially loved his therapy sessions because it gave him a chance to talk and engage with his care team and the staff who worked with him on his recovery. He also really enjoyed the crafts, music night, and doing things that were both fun and helpful to gain his strength back.

“Joseph doesn’t pity himself,” said Stephanie. “He loves being around people and was always ready and willing to be in therapy sessions and do what he needed to do to get better.”

She added that her son’s care team always addressed their family’s concerns and connected them with anything or anyone they needed while there.

Looking Ahead

Joseph DunlopWhile happy to be home today, Stephanie says the transition has been tough as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. On top of adapting and recovering physically, Joseph is faced with remote learning and misses his friends from school. Despite these challenges, Joe has stayed focused on getting back into an at-home routine. Recently, he was invited to apply for the National Honor Society, which he did, and was accepted into the local chapter.

“It’s bitter-sweet to be home, if you asked Joe,” said Stephanie. “He’s happy to be back in his element, but definitely misses all of the fun he had while in the hospital.” She adds, “Joseph made so many friends in the hospitals ‘Rec Room’ where he got to kick back and meet other kids his age.”

She also adds that the next step for her son is to gain enough strength in his legs to walk without a walker. He continues to work on his mobility, balance, and strength in an outpatient physical therapy program five days a week and ultimately hopes that the perseverance he gained from this experience leads him to his next goal of becoming an Eagle Scout and earning his merit badges through Boy Scouts of America.