Before Danielle and John Mock decided to move forward with special surgery to treat their 8-year-old son Carter's bone cancer, they told him the procedure to his leg would make him look different than other kids.
Doctors proposed rotationplasty for Carter, a procedure where a surgeon would remove his cancerous tumor along with a good portion of his left leg around the knee. Then, the lower part of his leg would be reattached, backwards, to his thigh.
What might have been an overwhelming decision for an 8-year-old was actually an easy "yes" for Carter — because he had a role model.
Ten years ago, Jack Manning, 18, underwent the same procedure on his left leg after also being diagnosed with osteosarcoma. He made himself readily available to help Carter through the experience.
“When we first met at the hospital, it was more of me helping him see what I could do. I showed him I could jump and run and other stuff I could do with the leg,” Jack told TODAY about their first meeting late last year.
In January, Carter underwent the surgery. The ankle of his left leg serves as his new knee joint, giving him more mobility with a prosthetic than any other type of surgery that would have saved the entire leg.
Jack's surgery was so long ago he barely remembers what his body was like before it — and so much has happened since then. After working with a physical therapist following the surgery, Jack gradually resumed playing sports, including baseball, basketball and football in high school. He also became an avid snowboarder.
“He just really got back to being a kid and it was awesome,” his dad, Vincent Manning, recalled. “The surgery, as different as it is, gave him the best chance at excelling and doing anything and everything he wanted to. Ten years now post-surgery and post-chemo, the loss of the leg hasn’t slowed him down at all.”
That’s practically all Carter needed to know to get on board with the procedure.
“The day of his surgery, he just walked in and he wasn’t scared or nervous. I think a lot had to do with him meeting Jack and seeing what he’s able to do,” said Carter’s mom, Danielle Mock. “He looks up to Jack so much. He thinks he’s awesome.”
His admiration for Jack only heightened after the teenager asked Carter to be his “pedal partner” in this weekend’s Pan Mass Challenge. Over the course of two days, Jack, his father and a handful of other riders will bike nearly 200 miles across Massachusetts to raise money for research and treatment at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. And “Team Jack” will do it this year in Carter’s honor.
Carter finished his chemotherapy treatment in June. He can now put about 75 percent of his weight on his left leg and still must use a crutch if he wants to run, but has no problem going swimming, rope climbing and bike riding. He expects to be back to his full, uninhibited self by fall.
“He has big plans to be skiing again and playing hockey this January,” his mother said.
Mock said she can’t express the amount of gratitude she feels for the entire Manning family, but especially Jack, who will attend Boston College in the fall.
“Jack gives Carter something my husband and I can’t give him. We haven’t been through Jack’s experiences and to see that someone else who looks the same way he does and know that he’s OK, it gives you such reassurance,” she said.
Jack’s father says they now can give other families that kind of comfort.
“They just want to know he’s going to be a regular kid and have an active childhood. That he’s going to get a girlfriend, and that it’s not going to be an issue. Basically, they want to know you’re going to get through this,” Manning said.
Mock said Carter has had no problem with the fact that his leg now looks different than nearly everyone else's.
“He said, ‘I don’t care what it looks like. I just want to be able to do all the things that I used to be able to do,’” she said.
“Since he got the surgery, it’s been more about enjoying being friends instead of thinking about the leg as much. He’s doing great,” Jack said about his pint-sized friend.
“It’s nice to see him happy after the surgery. This is all just as meaningful for me as it is for him.”