For Erin Kelly, Zion Harvey’s journey of strength and determination hits home. She shares her thoughts on how his story has affected her, and how he’s on his way to becoming a good man.
Author’s Note: In August 2015, I was asked to cover the story of eight-year-old Zion Harvey—the first child in the world to undergo double hand transplant surgery in late July—for The Good Men Project. His incredible journey prior to and following his surgery has captured the hearts of millions around the world, including mine. While all eyes seemed to be on Zion for his positive outlook, strength and determination, I could personally understand why he’s had to be a fighter ever since a deadly infection claimed both of his hands and legs at the age of two—and why he continues to be a fighter today. The following is an open letter to him, highlighting that fact, as well as his progress and recovery.
I’m sure that many will tell you—or have already told you—that you are a true inspiration. I’m sure that some have even wondered how you’ve gotten this far in life, or have convinced themselves that they could never handle your circumstances. Truth be told, I don’t know if I could handle half of what you’ve been through. However, I can completely relate to your willpower and determination—as well as your ability to adapt in ways most people likely don’t have to deal with on a daily basis.
I have cerebral palsy, a condition that has left me in a wheelchair since birth. I’m blessed to have both of my legs, but I’m unable to walk or use them properly, if at all. My hands have coincidentally compensated for that, as I’m now a full-time writer at the age of 30.
My left hand is much weaker and more contorted than my right because of my disability, but I eventually learned to use both hands as efficiently as I possibly could when I was a kid. I got myself to the point where I almost forgot I didn’t have the use of my legs, but I always understood why I couldn’t use them.
In fact, I was around your age when I first learned how to write and type on a computer keyboard. It was a moment that has opened many doors for me. I have no doubt your new hands—along with your undeniable spirit and intelligent, witty sense of humor—will continue to do the same for you. Like everyone else who has been following your journey, I was so happy when I read that you were recently released from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia with more than what you went in with.
I had a moment of personal joy—because again, I could relate. I had multiple surgeries on my legs as a kid, and know about all the hard work that comes with occupational and physical therapy. That was honestly my favorite part of watching various videos of your recovery and progress—the fact you didn’t show one single sign of self-pity or weakness. You just did your thing and listened to your heart and mind.
I’m still absolutely amazed by all the things you were able to do in those videos, but my favorite thing was watching you ride a bike. That’s something I have trouble with myself, and I could feel a huge smile creep across my face when I watched it. I smile just thinking about it.
When my Editor at The Good Men Project first asked me to write a story about you last month, however, I didn’t know that you have to wear prosthetic legs in addition to every other obstacle you’ve overcome. It was only until I watched a video that accompanied my story that my cerebral palsy—and everything I’ve done to adapt in my life—pales in comparison to the way that you handle your life.
I admittedly felt selfish the first time I watched that video, because I’ve got two hands and two legs. I know that seems silly, but it was enough to make me stop to look at my hands before I finished writing my story. I smiled because all my selfishness went away as quickly as I felt it. I realized I should be celebrating you, not feeling bad about what I have or don’t have.
I love the fact that you still want to be a kid, “swing on the monkey bars” and play with John Cena action figures (which I noticed in one of the videos I came across.) I’m a huge WWE fan, so that part was awesome! Not only that, but I love that you don’t use your situation as an excuse to not try and rise above whatever roadblock is put in front of you.
I also respect the fact you show appreciation and love for all your therapists, doctors, especially Dr. L. Scott Levin, who led his team through your surgery—and every person who’s helped you get where you are today. You’ve achieved more at eight years old than I—or the majority of people who know your story and are reading this letter—will likely achieve in a lifetime. The best part is, you’ve done it all with maturity, gratefulness and humor.
People tell me all the time that I’m an inspiration to them because of what I’ve done in my life. Well, I’m “turning the tables” on everybody and saying that you, Zion Harvey, are an inspiration to me. I hope to one day meet you and tell you all these things in person. In the meantime, though, I want you keep working hard, keep smiling, keep laughing—and most importantly, keep shining your bright, vibrant light of positivity on the world. You’re well on your way to becoming a great man!
Erin M. Kelly
Photo Credit: People.com via The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia