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Published July 04, 2012, 11:34 PM

Fargo teen with cerebral palsy bounces back, surgery after surgery

FARGO – By the time he graduated from Fargo Davies High School in May, every bone below Gannon Gilbraith’s waist had been broken.

By: Megan Card, INFORUM

FARGO – By the time he graduated from Fargo Davies High School in May, every bone below Gannon Gilbraith’s waist had been broken.

Without hesitating, the 18-year-old recounts a surgery from four years ago – the fractured bones, the throbbing pain, the months of immobility.

The surgery was necessary so he could adapt to his cerebral palsy.

Gannon has endured nine other surgeries just like the one four years ago since being diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 4 months old. But even with a health condition that distorts his range of motion, muscle tone and posture, Gannon hasn’t let the disorder slow him down.

The Forum first wrote about Gannon in 1998 when he was a toddler. His parents, Janette and Randy Gilbraith, faced the uncertainty of whether their son would ever be able to walk on his own.

Doctors had no answers, and Gannon was restricted to crutches and a walker. At the age of 3, he proved he was up to the task, with the help of a day care pal named Nate.

“Nate said to Gannon, ‘Come on Gannon, it’s time to go,’ and they walked out the door together, no walker, no crutches,” Janette said. “We realized then that Gannon was going to be OK.”

Janette gazes at Gannon next to her on the couch as she recalls watching her son’s day care steps. With a smile, she said people get the diagnosis of cerebral palsy and it’s hard, but it is amazing what can be accomplished.

Almost 15 years since walking out of day care, Gannon said he will never use his cerebral palsy as an excuse.

“It can be rough asking for help, because I don’t want to be the kid always relying on others,” Gannon said. “But CP pushed me to accept that asking for help isn’t weak, it’s just reality.”

The disorder has yet to stop him. He participated in extracurricular activities at Davies, attended the prom and graduated with honors.

Even with cerebral palsy restricting his on-field involvement in school sports, Gannon hardly reflects a teen restrained by his own frame. An avid sports fanatic, he kept stats for the Davies football team, and took part in team activities, including shaving his head Mohawk-style.

Gannon said he always dreamed of suiting up for one game, but said he has been able to live out his ambitions by watching his sister Kiana, 12, participate in sports.

Hearing her son speak about being a football player is a sensitive subject for Janette. She takes a minute and says it reminds her just how difficult a journey he has had.

And it has been a long medical road for Gannon, He has had 10 surgeries, each one breaking bones, straightening them and stretching out muscles.

He underwent a procedure at age 4 that cut 42 percent of his sensory nerves, called a rhizotomy, to allow more flexibility and control of his limbs.

At 14, he contracted toxic shock syndrome during one surgery. When Gannon’s skin became covered with blisters and peeled, his family was told he might not make it 24 hours.

Even this week, as Gannon begins to think about packing for his freshman year at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, there’s a possibility he may need surgery for his hip.

Janette said Gannon’s progress and attitude have had a huge impact on the family.

“When you get the diagnosis and you look to the future, you have no idea what is ahead of you,” she said. “I look at Gannon now, and I am so proud of him. And if I would have known that he would have blossomed, I think I would have slept better at night.”

Gannon thinks living with cerebral palsy has drawn his family closer together.

“Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins – I think I’ve shown to them to not sweat the little things. Just, you know, run with it,” he said.