(From Sweet Charity magazine, May/June 2012)
Justin Hudsco was on the move and determined to get his man. His arms thrust out to keep his balance, the 5-year-old was in hot pursuit of Dan Lasko, a very special visitor, as they played a game of freeze tag in the therapy gym at the Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital Pediatric Unit.
It didn’t matter that Dan was far bigger, stronger, faster than little Justin. In one sense, they were evenly matched, even soul mates perhaps. Dan, a retired Marine and Bethlehem resident, was living as an amputee having lost his left leg in 2004 in a roadside bomb explosion in Afghanistan. Justin, of Northampton, was just starting his own life, also as a left-leg amputee, after running in front of a riding mower at home last August. But for both, the towering 29-year-old veteran and the stout red-headed little boy, missing limbs were anything but a handicap as they laughed and ambled their way around the room.
It was a good day and about to get better. Justin was going home after a two-week stay learning how to use his spiffy new leg, a custom-made prosthetic by Boas Surgical with fiery Rey Mysterio graphics, Justin’s favorite wrestler, and blinking lights that flashed with every step.
His parents, Gail and John, knew their son had a lot of adjustments to make. So when nurse Jamie Zanelli was able to make arrangements for Dan to visit, the Hudscos were delighted. Dan, who plays softball and football and is a triathelete, was a powerful role model with a life-affirming message to share with Justin and other youngsters on the unit, each engaged in private wars of their own.
“He has a lot in life to look forward to,” Dan said in an interview with a Morning Call reporter, one of several media outlets present to capture the inspirational meeting. “He is not alone. There are not many of us out there, and we need each other. I hope to be a good role model, a friend and a mentor to him.”
“I think Dan is awesome,” says Gail. “He is so inspiring to me and my husband, knowing that Justin is going to grow up to be a man hopefully as great as Dan. There’s this whole life for Justin out there and it doesn’t have to be the end of anything.”
Adds Jamie, “I am an avid military supporter and was honored to have this hero, a wounded warrior who made such a personal sacrifice for his country, visit us.”
Justin and his parents have come to know the pediatric unit staff well. Justin was a patient after his August 2011 accident when he needed special care and therapy. At the time, the Hudscos were given two choices of places to take Justin, one in Philadelphia or Good Shepherd in Bethlehem. They didn’t have to think twice. Good Shepherd was only five minutes from their home and with three other children, it would make life so much easier.
“This whole experience has been extremely overwhelming,” says Gail. “But we are so pleased with the care they gave him. I credit them with a lot of his success because they have done a super job with him and us as a family.”
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