Make-A-Wish grants a plea for greater speed

Yangzi Jiang tries out his running blade after a final fitting. He was rejected when he first sought help from Make-A-Wish Philadelphia and Susquehanna Valley, but the group reconsidered.
Yangzi Jiang tries out his running blade after a final fitting. He was rejected when he first sought help from Make-A-Wish Philadelphia and Susquehanna Valley, but the group reconsidered. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 15, 2014

Yangzi Jiang had just one wish: He wanted to run. Fast.

Jiang, 19, lost his right leg to osteosarcoma, a bone cancer, and wears a prosthetic leg. But he loves sports. Losing his leg did not stop him from playing football or wrestling. He knew he could be better and faster with a blade.

So, in the spring of 2013, he contacted Make-A-Wish Philadelphia and Susquehanna Valley and told of his wish.

Sorry, they said. Running blades are considered medical equipment, and the group does not grant medical wishes.

Jiang thought about what else he'd like.

"I was thinking of maybe going to Disney World, but I'm too old for that," he said.

That summer, Make-A-Wish called him. The group had reviewed his case and determined that the running blade was not primary medical equipment. It could grant his wish after all.

Friday afternoon, Jiang finally got to take his wish out for a test run. He traveled to Cocco Enterprises Inc., a company that works with prosthetics and orthotics, on Passyunk Avenue.

When he walked in, he was excited. He had imagined this for a long time.

He had found the company himself and suggested it to Make-a-Wish, said Molly Gatto, director of program services at the organization's local chapter.

Gatto was there for every step of the process, which took about a month, attending each of his fittings, and showing up Friday with a Make-A-Wish T-shirt for him.

Jiang worked with an orthotist-prosthetist at Cocco named Matt Graham, himself an amputee. Graham had taken measurements of Jiang's right leg, creating test sockets and castings. Together, they fit a sleek black carbon fiber blade made by Ottobock.

"I've been itching to get him in here," Graham said before Jiang tried on his blade.

Cameras followed his every move at Cocco - Make-A-Wish is creating a video about Jiang's experiences and will shoot footage of him running on his new blade around the city.

"We make memories for a lot of kids, but this is something he can look at every day and know he got from Make-A-Wish," Gatto said.

In the exam room, Jiang slipped on the blade. He and Graham discussed a few necessary adjustments, and they took it in the back for corrections. Then Jiang slipped the blade on again. He took a step. Another. He headed down the hallway. Then he was off for the parking lot, leading a posse of Make-A-Wish, Ottobock, and Cocco supporters.

He jogged a few laps, adjusting to the trickier aspects of the blade, such as turning.

Soon he worked up a sweat. But he was not going his fastest, he said.

"Yeah," said his friend Colin Campbell. "He'll go all out when he's racing with me later."

Jiang, a student at Delaware County Christian School, lives with Campbell, 17, and his family. Campbell took videos with his and Jiang's iPhones.

Asked what the two planned to do with the photography, Jiang paused.

"Instagram it," he said, laughing.


CFabris@phillynews.com

215-854-5607

@CaseyFabris

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|