A tumor on his spine, two surgeries lasting eight hours each, endless hours of rehabilitation and weeks spent on a wheelchair – fate tried all it could to knock Jacob Brafman down.
The 10-year-old boy from Parkland, however, just wasn’t ready to quit.
More than 10 months after he underwent a second surgery that helped prevent him being paralyzed for the rest of his life, Jacob has been invited by the Marlin’s Foundation to throw out the first pitch at a home game against the Mets on Sept. 1. He is already making plans to enjoy the moment.
“I hope I will be able to meet David Wright [because] he is one of my favorite players,” Jacob, who plays little league ball in Parkland and is a huge major league baseball fan, said. “I hope to get his autograph.”
The fifth grader at Heron Heights Elementary is now healthy enough to play his favorite sport, but for many months, doctors and his parents were not sure if the bar could be set that high. Jacob, though, was not willing to settle for anything less.
“People tell us that Jacob has recovered so well because Ben and I have remained strong and provided him with the perfect environment,” his mother Suzanne said. “What they don’t know is that he is the one who sets the tone. We follow his lead.”
“Ben and I are so positive because Jacob is positive,” Suzanne said. “He never feels sorry for himself. He has never been angry at us, the doctors or even at the disease. He wants to be able to run again, to throw the ball like others kids.”
Jacob’s ordeal, said Ben, his father, began in the spring of last year. “He had difficulty touching his toe and bending backward,” he said. “When the doctors discovered a tumor in the base of his spine, we were in complete shock and afraid for our son. But he surprised us. There was no doubt in his mind that he would get better, even when it looked like he wouldn’t.”
Soon after Jacob was diagnosed with AVM (Arteriovenous malformation), a rare condition where the veins and arteries do not connect properly, Ali Sultan, neurosurgeon at the University of Miami Hospital, conducted the first of two surgeries on Jacob. The first surgery was on April 17 and the second one on Oct. 6. Both lasted eight hours each
“The disease he had is called HHT or Hereditary Hemorrhagic Telangiectasia,” Ben said. “It is an extremely rare disease; the doctors said they have never seen it on someone his age. They put platinum bars into the base of his spine and reattached it. The nerves are growing back now.”
For months Jacob was totally dependent on his parents, unable as he was to move or feel his lower extremities. “He was paralyzed and wheelchair bound for months,” Suzanne said. “He fought to regain motion and feeling in his legs. Slowly, he graduated to a walker and with the help of a physical therapist, taught himself how to walk. He can now run a bit, if he wants to.”
Among those delighted at Jacob’s improvement is Karin Amsalem, his mother’s friend and a Plantation resident. “I have known him since he was a baby,” she said. “He is always happy and positive. He is motivated as well and will do all that the doctor asks him to do. He is a real inspiration; he doesn’t let his limitations come in his way.”
Jacob is already thinking of how it would be to be back to normal. “I missed school but I had a teacher come down two times a week. I have started going back to school and I am excited about that. I had someone to run for me when I played baseball a few weeks ago. Next year, I will be running on my own.”