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A lifetime of broken bones cannot take away Fillemon’s bright smile

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Above, Fillemon heads to Boy Scout Camp. Below, Fillemon is in the ER with five broken bones.
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Fillemon Wakuwile is a student at St. Clare Walker School and at 15 years of age, he has already broken more than 15 bones.

This summer, he outdid himself on the first day of Boy Scout Camp by breaking 5 bones at one time—both of his legs, one foot and both bones in his right arm. The fractures occurred from a very low impact fall from a wheelchair.

Fillemon was born with a bone disorder called Osteogenesis Imperfecta, which makes his bones very brittle, so that minor trauma can cause even the large bones in his thighs to break like twigs. Dr. Robin Ellett of Chesapeake Medical Group and her family met Fillemon in Namibia while they were living and working in Africa. They were immediately charmed by this brightly-smiling boy who propelled himself on crutches around the shanty-town where he lived with his uncle.

Fillemon became friends with Dr. Ellett’s sons, and when his uncle died suddenly, he came to live with the Ellett-Hall family in their house in Oshakati. Seeing Fillemon’s legs deformed from poor bone healing, and living through three more fractures with him in Africa, Dr. Ellett vowed to try to do something to help him walk again and to prevent future fractures from occurring so easily. When she moved back to the U.S., she contacted Shriners Hospital for Children to see whether they would consider treating Fillemon, and arranged for him to come live in Middlesex County while the treatment was explored.

Fillemon came to live with Dr. Ellett’s family in Hartfield in December, and has been warmly embraced by the Middlesex community. Administrators, teachers, bus drivers, and fellow students at St. Clare Walker all went the extra mile to reach out to Fillemon, making his school experience truly exceptional. An individualized curriculum helped improve his English and reading skills considerably. He was fortunate to enjoy friendship of great neighbors at the Piankatank River Golf Course and also benefited from tutoring and golf lessons offered there this past year.

Boy Scouting has been and continues to be one of Fillemon’s favorite things. As a new member of Troop 341, he went on multiple field trips including an overnight camping trip and was excited about working on merit badges.

Meanwhile, Fillemon was approved for surgery to straighten his legs at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Greenville, South Carolina, and was scheduled for an operation on July 11. But first, his heart was set on going to Camp Brady Saunders for a week with his troop from Middlesex. His troop leaders, Bruce and Terry Nelson, Alice and Todd Nelson, Bill Goettle, Jerry Lindsey and Roy Fochtmann, made special arrangements for him to have a wheelchair-accessible tent and a golf cart to help him get to camp activities on time. A major effort was made to ensure his safety while attempting to enable him to participate as fully as possible in camp activities. This balance between overprotection and allowing a handi-capable child to live as fully as possible is a difficult one and proved to be so at camp. Fillemon’s wheelchair innocently hit a bump on a small incline, causing him to fall forward and out of the chair about an hour after arriving at camp. The accidental fall was not fueled by horseplay or speed; however, Fillemon’s body sustained major trauma, breaking both femurs (thigh bones), both bones in his lower arm, and his foot!

He was stabilized by skillful medics at the camp and taken to the VCU Pediatric Emergency Room by ambulance with Assistant Scoutmaster Goettle following close behind. Now in need of urgent surgery to repair his injuries, Fillemon and Dr. Ellett were transferred by ambulance to Shriners Hospital in South Carolina. There he underwent more than seven hours of surgery to put metal rods in his upper legs and repair the bones in his arm. He will require further surgery this fall to complete the straightening of his legs.

Through it all Fillemon has done beautifully, sharing his beautiful smile with very few complaints, despite his pain. Heart-broken about missing camp, but determined to give it a go again next year, a major concern of his is that the doctors had to cut his brand new Scout uniform into shreds when he arrived at the ER in Richmond.

This actually represents another difficult period of recovery for Fillemon, who is pretty much immobilized with legs in casts from toes to hips, joined by a bar at the knees, and his dominant right arm in a cast from fingers to shoulder. He spends most of his days confined to a hospital bed, as taking him out of the house is a struggle that requires three people to move him. Even cable TV and Nintendo get boring after a while.

The Ellett-Hall family and Fillemon thank Boy Scout Troop 341, Chesapeake Medical Group, and all of the friends and well-wishers who have sent cards and gifts and kept them in their thoughts and prayers over the past few weeks. Fillemon would love to receive cards and letters from his friends in Middlesex County while he recuperates at Grandma’s house. You can write to him: c/o Mrs. Ida Ellett, 4809 Altair Road, Richmond VA 23231. He certainly will appreciate it . . . and if anyone has an old Boy Scout uniform they no longer need, he would appreciate that too.

For more information on Fillemon’s condition, call Fred or Jerry Dant at 776-6975

posted 07.18.2012

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