My mom went into labor with my brother on my eleventh birthday. I begged her to wait until the following day to give birth. I just couldn't bear the thought of sharing a birthday. My mom, being the incredibly devoted woman that she is, respected my wishes and held on through the night and delivered my brother Matthew James on August 13, 1997. My newborn baby brother and I were exactly 11 years and 1 day a part. My sister and I would move mountains for Matt -- we sat through hours of insufferable "Wee-Sing" children's tapes, we attended every Bright Child play group session just we could to cheer him him on. We patiently helped Matt learn to take his first strokes in the pool, taught him how to write his name, and I loved teaching him to how to throw a baseball. While he only played one season of T-Ball, I was proud that he tried to play, even though his heart wasn't really in the game.
In many ways Matt must have looked up to my sister and I, especially when we entered high school, earned got our coveted drivers licenses, and started to apply to college. Although Carly and I loved to teach Matt everything we knew, we quickly learned that he was blessed with some incredible talents that set him a part from us. Matt can add large numbers in his head in a matter of seconds. He's a gifted artist with a keen sense of perspective and I have no doubt that he grow up to realize his dream of becoming an architect. He has a sharp wit, a quick tongue, and appreciates "Seinfeld" as much as I do. While Matt spent the early part of his childhood looking up to Carly and I, we have spent the last 6 months looking up to him.
One year ago, when Matt was in fifth grade, he injured his foot playing soccer in PE. An X-ray confirmed that he had fractured his growth plate and his left foot needed to be put in a cast. After 6 weeks, the cast was removed and Matt seemed fine, until he started to experience excruciating pain. We didn't understand why his foot was hurting, but when I looked in my brother's eyes I knew he wasn't faking it. The orthopedic group decided to recast the foot, but this only escalated the pain. Matt was doubling over in agony, begging for someone to make the pain stop. The cast was immediately removed by a different pediatric orthopedist who discovered that Matt's foot was ice cold and wasn't receiving any circulation. The problem was not Matt's foot. He never even fractured his growth plate, but he contracted a rare nerve disorder called CPRS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome). Imagine that the wires in your brain are crossed and pain signals are being sent to the site of a previous injury (in this case Matt's foot) even though you're not actually in pain. The pain signals NEVER shut off. Matt has described the pain to someone lighting his leg on fire and then trying to saw it off.
After three months of doctors visits and rounds of medication, Matt was able to walk one day in January 2009. We thought we would be able to put the nightmare behind us once and for us, until Matt relapsed in January. His doctors thought it would disappear in a matter of weeks, but they were wrong. Matt was forced to relive the CRPS nightmare again -- less than a year after he had been cured. While he was often frustrated with the demands of his physical therapist, Matt carried on. He went to art therapy and produced some beautiful new works, he saw doctors, obediently took his pills morning, noon, and night, and even decorated his crutches with duct tape.
Today is a very special day for my family. After five and a half months of not being able to walk, the pain in Matt's foot has finally subsided and he is slowly applying pressure to his foot and taking baby steps around the house. I am without words. The thought of seeing my brother walk again after hearing him hop around the house and lean over crutches for all these months brings me to tears. We have truly learned never to taking anything for granted. I can't wait to go over to my parent's house tonight and see Matt standing tall -- he is just about as tall as I am now.
He may be my little brother, but I will always look up to Matt.