Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Kerwyn Jones treats many young athletes dealing with injury and pain. Then there’s 13-year-old Brenna David, a player like none other. Born with a disease that robs her legs of mobility, Brenna plays basketball and softball with gusto. She’s endured pain, disability and about 20 surgeries, but rarely complains.
“She’s a motivational kid,” said Dr. Jones, chairman of the Department of Pediatric Orthopedics at Akron Children’s Hospital. “She has a bad disease. Her knees are locked and she still runs around and plays sports. It blows my mind.”
Brenna was born with arthrogryposis, a rare condition that causes chronic loss of joint movement and muscle abnormalities. The cause is unknown.
Arthrogryposis has affected Brenna’s knees, ankles and feet mostly. The muscles around her knees don’t work. At birth, her knees bent in the wrong direction and she had clubfeet. She also has problems with an undersized jaw that required surgery to lengthen it.
“When she was little, she moved herself along the floor using her hands,” said her mother, Heather Hankins. “She started walking at 2 ½, and used a walker and braces through age 5. She couldn’t ride a school bus until she was in second grade.”
Dr. Jones has operated on Brenna many times since she was a baby, first to repair clubfeet and more recently on both knees.
A little toggle motion in Brenna’s left knee was causing tremendous pain every time it moved. In February, Dr. Jones implanted screws and steel plates in the leg to keep her knee completely stiff. He also did a less extensive surgery on the growth plate of the other knee.
“She only has one joint that allows her to walk and that’s her hips,” Dr. Jones said.
Wearing a full leg cast from the surgery, Brenna was not able to walk until the cast was removed in mid-April.
At her home in Leavittsburg, outside Warren, she had a bed set up in the living room, with a small table and mirror bedside for hair and makeup.
An 8th grader at LaBrae Middle School, she had played on the girls’ basketball team last year. She has even practiced with her brother Nicholas’ football team.
“She’s very tough,” said Heather. “She doesn’t give up on anything. She doesn’t want to be treated differently and she doesn’t complain. She’s my hero.”
One thing Brenna could not do was ride a bike. A couple years ago, her older sister, BrookLynn, a welding student at the Trumbull County Career and Technical Center, had the idea of building a hand-pedal bike as her senior project. With the help of an uncle who had welding tools, BrookLynn cut apart 2 donated bikes and built a custom bike for Brenna.
“To buy a hand-pedal bike was around $2,000,” said BrookLynn, now 20. “We had people donate old bikes. I cut off pieces I needed and welded them together.”
While Brenna can get around on 2 wheels, it’s not so easy to get around on 4 wheels. Because her knees don’t bend, she has to sit at an angle in the backseat of the family car, and she has trouble wearing a seatbelt. Heather wants a minivan to accommodate Brenna, but it is financially out of reach for the time being.
“We have a hard time getting her in a car – if it’s a two-door car, forget it,” Heather said.
Brenna said she was sad to miss the basketball season this year, and that she can’t play softball this summer. She looks forward to getting back into sports and back into the world.
“She hasn’t been out much other than for doctor appointments, to the mall and to grandma’s,” Heather said. “She was anxious to get back to school. It’s been tough on her. But she’s strong.”