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Tales of a Hay Hauler: Mitch's Story

Brad Nelson Published on 29 June 2009

Mitchell Lee Nelson came into this world with challenges. At the moment of his birth, I could tell that he had serious physical problems.

The doctors had never seen quite this type of birth defect, and had him transferred to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake.

Arthrogryposis, the doctors there named his condition. Translated from the Greek, it means tight, twisted joints. He was also missing about 90 percent of the muscle mass of his arms and upper body.

His first years were spent commuting to Primary Children’s Hospital for straightening splints, and three or four corrective surgeries.

Elli came home from one clinic visit in tears. That day she had met and visited with another mother at the clinic. Elli said that this was a very attractive, educated young mother.

Her child’s only problem was a simple club-foot, which was 100 percent correctable, with only minor medical intervention. The child’s father had divorced her for presenting him with less than a perfect child.

At about age two, Dad presented Mitch with a wheeled plastic horse. It had a bar in the head area that Mitch could grip, and his feet were on the ground adequate to balance, and with a little learning, he moved himself.

Before he had a handle on “riding” ‘Horsie Pete’, as he was named, Mitch lost his balance, and rolled off to the side. As a gesture of frustration as he went down, he booted Horsie Pete in the rear with his foot.

Mitch was three before he took his first unaided steps. By the time Horsie Pete was retired, he must have had a hundred thousand miles on him. When Elli would go downtown with our second child in her arms, Mitch would be following on Horsie Pete.

Mitch has always been fearless. At age five, he would jump from whatever he was standing on into the arms of Dad or Grandpa, whoever was there to catch him. Dad told me that there has almost been an accident.

Mitch was standing on the floor of my cab-over hay truck, and as he had approached, Mitch called out, “Grandpa! Catch!” When he turned, Mitch was already air-born, and he just barely caught him. We talked to Mitch about making sure whoever he was jumping to, was paying attention before he jumped.

Mitch ran on the cross-country team at Middleton High School. And in his senior year, was regularly coming in ahead of a number of other runners. He ran the distance events in track in the spring, “Just to stay in shape for cross-country.”

I attended a couple of track meets he ran at. The crowd cheered as the winner crossed the finish line, and for the rest of the runners. And then, sometimes half a lap later, here would come Mitch, running with his characteristic gait, giving it all he had.

As he approached the finish line, his classmates cheered and yelled for him louder than they had for the winner.

At one of his check-up visits at a doctor’s office, the doctor spoke to Mitch’s mother in private. He stated that most kids with Mitch’s kinds of challenges tended to be behind their age group in school, and also tended to have their conditions worsen with age.

Mitch, he noted, was doing just the opposite. By talking with Mitch, he thought he had the answer. It seems that Mitch had to try his level best before he got any help with anything. And he was expected to do well in school, which he did. The doctor was basically laying Mitch’s successes at his mother’s feet.

For his Eagle Scout project, Mitch prepared and distributed to clinics and doctors’ offices a pamphlet entitled, “How to Raise a Handicapped Child.”

It included tips such as to let the person try to figure out how to do it for himself, rather than doing everything for him. And that being handicapped, or having a handicapped child, is not punishment from God.

Mitch has served a mission for his church, has graduated from college and married a lovely Samoan lady named Tani. He works for the State of Washington in Olympia. His car does not have handicapped plates, nor does he see himself as handicapped. On good days, he rides his bicycle to work.

Mitch has been the greatest blessing in my life. I have learned how to encourage and prod my other children on to greater things because of the training Mitch gave me.  FG