Dionte Foster of St. Kitts and Nevis Received Specialized Leg in Louisville
On August 1, 2015, Dionte Foster, an athlete from Special Olympics Saint Kitts and Nevis was celebrating his tennis gold medal at the 2015 World Summer Games in Los Angeles. Just days later, as he returned to Saint Kitts, he learned he was in a fight for his life.
Foster had complained of pain in his left leg while playing at the World Games. After his final match, the World Games medical staff from Kaiser Permanente advised his coach to take him to the emergency room. By the time Foster had returned home, Saint Kitts and Nevis National Director Ivor Blake had received word to get Foster to the hospital immediately. There, tests revealed that the pain Foster had been experiencing was the result of osteosarcoma in his left leg – bone cancer. The news get worse when it was discovered that Foster had Stage 4 cancer and that it had spread to his lungs.
The decision was made almost immediately to remove Dionte’s left leg, both to relieve the pain and to stop the cancer’s spread. He also underwent surgery on his lungs and chemotherapy. Eventually, thankfully, Dionte was declared cancer free. The next step for him was to get back on the tennis court.
He began playing on one leg, but dreamed of playing as he had on two legs again. Blake mentioned Dionte’s dream to someone at a Special Olympics North America business meeting and that set wheels in motion that would eventually bring Dionte to Kentucky.
Soon enough, SOKY Board member and Special Olympics Global Medical Director Matt Holder was contacted. Holder reached out to fellow SOKY Board member Dr. Priya Chandan for assistance. Dr. Chandan put Dr. Holder in touch with her husband Dr. Matt Adamkin of UofL Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, who works with patients who have had amputations. Dr. Adamkin in turn contacted Wayne Luckett of Louisville Prosthetics, and Luckett began to – literally – put the pieces together for Dionte to received a specialized prosthetic leg that would allow him to fully return to tennis. SOKY Board member Larry Weishaar hosted Foster and Blake in his home during their stay.
Luckett secured component donations from Maverick Extreme All Terrain (microprocessor controlled knee and high tech sports foot), sockets from Martin-Bionics and liners from Endolite America, then he donated the titanium shin, thigh, and alignable components and his practice’s time to create and fit the leg, and begin Dionte’s training.
Foster and Blake arrived in Louisville late on Saturday, Sept. 28, and met with Luckett for the first time on Sunday for the initial fittings. By Tuesday of that week, Dionte received his completed, fitted new leg. Luckett taught Dionte how to attach it and immediately Dionte was on his feet learning to walk again on two legs for the first time in three years. His progress was astounding. He went quickly from walking with parallel bars to walking with two crutches to just one crutch.
“I don’t know how to describe my happiness,” he said after walking for the first time.
Wednesday, Dionte hit the courts at the Bass-Rudd Tennis Center on the University of Louisville Campus. It was his first day on a tennis court on two legs since the World Games. Dionte received some specialized instruction from world ranked adaptive tennis player Jeff Bourns, who himself has an above the knee amputation. Bourns helped Dionte learn to stabilize himself and learn the motions he would need to once again play the sport he loves. Bourns had agreed to fly in and help Dionte after a cold call from Luckett who had done some research to find somebody who could best help Dionte regain his tennis skills.
On both Tuesday and Wednesday, Dionte also received dental care from the Lee Specialty Clinic in Louisville, which is run by Dr. Holder and which treats only individuals with intellectual disabilities.
Thursday saw Dionte back on the court with Bourns in the morning, improving with every swing. It was already clear that he was starting to be more comfortable on the leg and trust his balance more. In the afternoon, he took the court with University of Louisville Men’s Tennis coach Rex Ecarma for a little more work. Again, his progress was extraordinary. By the end of the session, Dionte was shifting weight and turning from his forehand to his backhand with confidence.
After a week in Louisville, Dionte and Ivor returned to St. Kitts and Nevis. We are happy to have had them in Kentucky and to have had so many people associated with SOKY support the effort to help return Dionte to competitive tennis. Thank you to Dr. Matt Adamkin and UofL Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Wayne Luckett and Louisville Prosthetics, Jeff Bourns and Rex Ecarmara for all the work they did to make this happen. We all look forward to seeing Dionte on a court again soon.
While he was in Kentucky, Dionte had a message for anybody going through hard times: “Be brave and live life to the fullest.”