Thursday, September 03, 2009

Determination Is His Partner

From the Chicago Tribune:

Dancer with cerebral palsy refuses to be led by lifelong disability
By Patrick Ferrell
September 2, 2009

When 22-year-old Brent Sapit stepped onto the dance floor, his shoes may have been the only indication he wasn't quite like the other ballroom dancers.

"To accommodate the [ leg] braces, I wear size 15 shoes," Sapit said, "which makes it very, very hard to try to be graceful on the floor."

Yet Sapit, whose cerebral palsy was diagnosed when he was just months old and who walks with a cane, moved just as fluidly as the others in a competition for those new to dancing."

You put him next to everybody else and it looks exactly the same, like they're really having fun," said Shannon Konczal, one of Sapit's instructors and partners at the recent competition at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Hoffman Estates.

His dancing caps a journey that started when doctors told his mother 20 years ago that her toddler may never be able to walk."At that point, Brent was still commando crawling," Linda Sapit said. Doctors warned that he likely would need a wheelchair."

He could advance far beyond anything," she remembers them telling her, "but you're going to have a lot of physical therapy and surgery with him."

His parents credit Brent's mobility -- and his ability to dance without a cane -- to his attitude and a then-groundbreaking surgery called selective posterior rhizotomy he had at age 2 1/2 . Doctors cut the spinal cord nerves that cause muscle tightness and spasticity in the legs of patients with cerebral palsy, according to Dr. Deborah Gaebler-Spira, a pediatric physiatrist who oversees the cerebral palsy program at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

Gaebler-Spira, who has treated Sapit since he was 21 months old, said he was an ideal candidate for the surgery because of his quest for mobility. The surgery requires years of physical therapy to be successful."

They do have to reinvent themselves as far as how they move," she said.Linda Sapit said her son had a breakthrough less than three months after the surgery. She still gets excited when she recalls what happened."

He was watching this little boy walking on a walker, and he said, 'Mom, I really want to walk,' " Linda Sapit said. "Dr. Gaebler got this excited look on her face ... and I looked at them and said, 'What do we do?' They said we give him a moving walker and see how he does."They give him this moving walker ... [and] he pushes himself up on this walker -- and it was this walker with wheels -- and he starts walking."

There wasn't a dry eye in the house," she said. "Here is this little kid walking, and it was so amazing. He had this smile on his face like you wouldn't believe."

Through the years, Brent Sapit has progressed to using two four-pronged canes, then one pole cane.The Orland Park resident and 2005 graduate of Sandburg High School became enamored with ballroom dancing after watching the first season of the TV show "Dancing With the Stars."

"They were so balanced and graceful, and I thought, well, I need to work on my balance," he said. "It was really just something to see the contestants gliding across the floor, and I really fell in love with it."

But Sapit became truly hooked in 2007 when Heather Mills, a former model and ex-wife of Paul McCartney, competed on the show."Halfway through the season, I found out she had an artificial leg and I thought, darn it, if she can do it, I can too. And I've got both legs," Sapit said.

So, he enrolled in the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Tinley Park. The competition in Hoffman Estates was a chance for the studio's newest dancers to pit themselves against others. Sapit had won a gold medal in Special Olympics swimming, but never competed against those without disabilities.His team placed third.

Now, Sapit has decided that his next challenge will be dancing without his cumbersome leg braces.

"I'm going out next week to get a regular pair of dancing shoes," he said.
Copyright © 2009, Chicago Tribune

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