Baseball helps spina bifida patient from Derry keep his mind off of obstacles
Clarissa Amond gently places a mask over her son's face and counts.
One, two, three.
She kisses him and tells the nurses, “Take care of my baby.”
She's done this 60 times in his 13 years, each time hoping her son Greg will wake up from surgery in less pain.
“You just do it,” said Amond, 33, of Derry. “You just go in and focus on your child, and I do, and just tell him everything's going to be fine and he's going to come out stronger than he went in.”
Greg's journey will continue until his legs are strong enough to reach his goal. The teen, who began using a wheelchair three years ago, wants nothing more than to walk the bases at Miracle Field in Murrysville.
Greg, who has spina bifida, has endured dozens of surgeries on his brain, back and foot. In the longest, doctors spent 12 hours rebuilding his bladder using his intestines.
His latest surgery, called a triple arthrodesis, was to remove three bone wedges from Greg's left foot. The remaining bones were fitted together like puzzle pieces and secured with staples during the surgery at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh on June 10.
Over the next three months, the bones will fuse together to form a straight leg so Greg can stand and learn to walk again.
Throughout the surgeries and daily challenges, baseball keeps Greg's spirits up.
It started with a game of catch in the backyard with his grandfather, Ross Amond, whom Greg affectionately calls “Dad.” But Greg wanted to get out and socialize with children his age, so his mother signed the young player up for adaptive baseball in Greensburg.
But the field was soggy from a heavy rain the night before. Wheelchairs stuck in the mud wouldn't budge.
Last year, Clarissa Amond learned about the Bill Mazeroski Miracle Field in Murrysville. It has a rubber surface and flat bases so that players with wheelchairs can glide easily.
“Now he has something to look forward to,” she said. “It's an environment where everyone is friendly. It's almost like there are no disabilities — it's just baseball.”
The field opened in late 2012 after six years of planning and fundraising. The Murrysville-Export Rotary Club raised more than $1 million for the complex. The first full baseball season kicked off this spring.
It's part of a complex for people with special needs that includes a basketball court and walking trail.
“It's really fun and you can do lots of stuff there,” Greg said. “It's just fun. I get to meet a lot of new friends.”
Many nights, Greg is planted in front of the television watching his heroes crack baseballs at PNC Park, run for touchdowns in Heinz Field or catapult pucks into hockey nets.
Greg loves all Pittsburgh sports. A true hometown fan, he despises the Cleveland Browns.
He collects professional athlete stickers, and pencils in notes during the football draft.
“He used to want to be a Steeler,” his mother said. “We had to have that talk. You don't want to ever tell your child what they can't do, but we focused on what he could do.”
Greg's desire to be involved earned him a spot as a manager for Derry's swim team next year. He's excited about the job, which requires him to fill water bottles and ensure swimmers are in the proper lanes.
He plans to spend his summer at Miracle Field. During these first few weeks after surgery, Greg will be on the sideline as an assistant coach for his undefeated team, the Blue Jays.
After a few weeks of rehabilitation, he will get back on the field, even with the cast on his left foot.
“He really likes baseball,” Amond said. “There's nothing to keep him from playing.”
In his last game before the surgery, Greg, in his signature, blue tie-dye, knee-high socks, wheeled himself up to first base. The booming voice of Harold Hicks, president of the Miracle League of Western Pennsylvania, announced that Greg was up.
Greg's buddy, 12-year-old Nolan Drew, crouched behind Greg's chair to hold it steady.
The first pitch glided over the plate before it was cracked away by Greg's powerful swing. He dropped the bat and Nolan released his grip as Greg took off.
“He pushes himself to do it,” Hicks said. “He doesn't want his buddy to push him to first (base). He'd rather roll himself. He wants to get out of that thing.”
Greg was tagged out before he made it, but he smiled as he wheeled himself back to the dugout.
“He's going to have this surgery so he can get out and stand up to play,” Hicks said. “Last season he told me, ‘I'm going to walk around the bases after hitting a home run.' ”
Amanda Dolasinski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.