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news News Wednesday, August 1, 2018 Thursday, June 28, 2018 12:56 PM - Thursday, June 28, 2018 12:56 PM

15-year-old with cerebral palsy wins Courage Award on wrestling team

15-year-old with cerebral palsy wins Courage Award on wrestling team

Alex with his family at IndyStar Sports Awards event

One of the first things you notice about Alex is his amazing smile. Your opinion may move from amazing to inspiring when you hear his story. Alex came into the world prematurely, weighing less than 2 pounds. He had cerebral palsy and was not expected to walk or talk. But that was not how his life turned out. Alex has gone through multiple surgeries and hours of therapy. Thanks to the orthopaedic care at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago, this happy 15-year-old is active in school, uses a walker to go to class and recently won a statewide award on his high school wrestling team.

Alex is the wrestling manager for the JV team of his high school in Indianapolis, Indiana. “He’s responsible for packing the bags with their uniforms and wrestling socks. He helps them with the bags and the team helps carry him on the bus,” said Alex’s mom, Antoinette Welch. Alex is so committed to his wrestling duties that the family schedules surgeries and appointments to avoid missing wrestling season.

A big surprise

Wrestling helped Alex's story spread across Indiana this year. In January 2018, Alex surprised his family by walking into the wrestling ring as an athlete. That week of his 15th birthday, teammates and coaches secretly helped him dress for a wrestling match. Alex had asked his mom if he could do extra physical therapy leading up to the day, but she didn’t know why. “I had no idea. I was sitting there and they walked him out. I started crying,” she said.

Assisted by his coaches, Alex walked to the ring. The official raised his hand, indicating a “win” by forfeit. Antoinette shared a video and wrote on Twitter: “Last night the best kept secret by Alex & his wrestling team was revealed. Alex weighed in 4 the LN vs. LC match, something he has been wanting to do. I’m so touched that his teammates & coaches did this for him.” The tweet and the video went viral, leading to media attention and his nomination for a statewide award.

Indy Star Sports Awards Courage winner

Each year the IndyStar Sports Awards recognizes the top athletic accomplishments in Indiana high school sports. This year Alex was nominated for the Courage Award. In April, almost 1,000 people including athletes, teams and coaches from across the state attended the awards ceremony. Alex brought his eighth-grade wrestling coach, his JV wrestling coach and a buddy to go with him backstage. At the awards he also met former Indianapolis Colt Reggie White. “I was a little nervous,” Alex said.

His parents had to hide the win from Alex until the big moment. “We saw his name in the program and realized he won. But we didn’t let him see it. He didn’t know until they called his name,” Antoinette said.

According to the IndyStar article about the awards, "Alex is a daily inspiration for the Wildcats wrestling team. … and takes part in conditioning workouts as the wrestlers take turns pushing his wheelchair around the outdoor track. ‘Faster, faster!’ Welch yells while timing each lap.”

The newspaper quotes a teammate who said, “In eighth grade, he wasn’t walking that much. But now sometimes in the hallways you will see him walking or see him walking at lunch. I think we’re inspiring him and he’s inspiring us."

Shriners Hospitals for Children helped him walk

The family said Alex is able to walk thanks to Pediatric Orthopaedic Surgeon Jeffrey Ackman, M.D., and the physical and occupational therapists at the Chicago Shriners Hospital. “Alex was an independent walker until seventh grade, but then he grew. Our local hospital in Indianapolis said Alex would just use a wheelchair,” Antoinette said.

The family came to Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago, which specializes in orthopaedic and rehabilitation services for children with cerebral palsy. Dr. Ackman said, “We’re going to turn his hip because his hip was misplaced and he had a limb length difference.”

Alex had surgery in 2015 to cut and rotate his upper thigh bone and build up the hip socket to help it stay in place. “His hip was coming out of the socket. We did an extensive surgery on his hip, and muscle release and lengthenings,” Ackman said.

Thanks to several surgical procedures and therapy at the hospital, Alex regained the ability to walk. “Dr. Ackman got him using a walker and he pretty much uses a walker around school now,” Antoinette said. “I always thank Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago and Dr. Ackman for all they do when people ask me about Alex. People also say, ‘Don’t you get tired of driving to Chicago?' I say, ‘No, it’s the best three hours of our life because I know it is helping him.' ”

Antoinette also appreciates the caring nurses. “Nurse Jackie and Nurse Dani. I was so scared the first time he had surgery and they made it so easy,” she said.

Alex’s favorite part of the hospital is physical therapy. He said, “Because they get to see me. They smile at me and I get to play Mario Cart [as part of therapy].”

On track for a great future

Alex loves his manager role and plans to keep working with the wrestling team. Wrestling isn’t his only passion. Alex has helped with sports conditioning camps this summer, and recently lettered in shot-put on his high school’s Unified Track team, a varsity sport in the state of Indiana which combines athletes with and without disabilities, and includes a state championship tournament.

Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago is committed to helping Alex stay healthy, independent and smiling as he grows and continues his therapy and care, which includes traveling to Chicago for botulinum toxin A treatments related to his cerebral palsy. “Alex is always upbeat with a positive attitude,” Dr. Ackman said. Alex's positive attitude and his commitment to living his life to the fullest have inspired many inside and outside the hospital walls.