Around the Ohio River town of Gallipolis, Lisa Osborne speaks at churches and schools on behalf of her 9-year-old son, Cambell.
Cambell was born with achondroplasia, a genetic condition that causes most cases of dwarfism. Lisa knew when she was 8 months pregnant that Cambell’s measurements weren’t where they should be. As he got older, Cambell became more aware that he was different than other kids. He felt the stares and remarks of others, and he began asking more questions.
Lisa believed she needed to raise awareness so that people would know not to stare or make insensitive comments. She wanted others to know they shouldn’t regard people with dwarfism as less than, and that the word “midget” is offensive. “‘Little people’ and ‘dwarf’ are acceptable, but it’s best to refer to people by their names,” Lisa said.
She and her husband, Lee, tell Cambell that he can do anything he wants to do.
“Cambell is a typical 9 year old, he just needs step stools and has extra doctor appointments to see his specialist,” Lisa said. “There’s nothing Cambell can’t do. He’s very driven.
“We need to educate people,” she said. “My goal is to keep the message out there that we can all inspire each other. We all have differences. It’s okay to talk about it and share our stories.”
The Skeletal Dysplasia Center is one of the largest in North America and treats about 600 patients, many of whom come from out of state. Most of the patients, like Cambell, have achondroplasia, and have experienced bullying because of their stature, Dr. Weiner said.
“Society for centuries has abused people who are little,” Dr. Weiner said. “Imagine the psychological impact. They have to deal with it their whole lives. This group of people has been disenfranchised simply because the way they are born.”
Dr. Weiner said people with dwarfism “are very functional, they are not mentally impaired and they lead normal lives, other than some medical problems.”
Their head and face shape is such that they get chronic ear infections and can lose hearing if it’s not treated. They have bowed legs, which can be treated, and a narrow spinal canal that often leads to problems with the lower back and lower legs, he said.
At age 2, Cambell had surgery to straighten his bowed legs, so he would be able to stand and walk correctly. More recently, the family made the 200-mile trek to Akron because of compression at the top of his spine – a condition usually seen in babies and toddlers with achondroplasia.
Cambell’s compression developed much later. He was moving slower and his teacher noticed he was having attention and memory issues. Then one day he became extremely lethargic. The family rushed him to the local hospital.
“When we got to the hospital he was in a critical state,” Lisa said. “His lips turned blue. I held him in the backseat. He would try to talk but couldn’t get words out. Because of the compression, he wasn’t getting enough oxygen to the brain.”
Akron Children’s neurosurgeon Dr. Tsulee Chen performed surgery in April 2016 to relieve the pressure, and Cambell’s symptoms improved immediately.
Nurse Shannon Leslie, coordinator of the Skeletal Dysplasia Center, recalled how numbness in Cambell’s fingers disappeared.
“When he woke up from surgery, we was so excited because he could snap his fingers,” Shannon said.
But recovery was long. Cambell could have no physical activity for 3 months.
Now he is back to running and riding his bike. He gets straight A’s in school, plays piano and studies computers.
The community is very supportive of Cambell, Lisa said. “He has a lot of friends, and he’s Facebook famous. When people meet him, he inspires,” she said.
“But at age 9, he’s starting to ask questions. ‘Am I always going to be small?’ ‘Why am I not growing like my friends?’”
When Lisa speaks to community groups, she shows a video she had produced called “Cambell’s Story.” Paul Doeffinger, a family friend and local singer songwriter, contributed Your Kind of Heart, a song he recorded for the video soundtrack.
Lisa said Cambell listens to the lyrics over and over.
Your kind of heart can go anywhere
Your kind of dreams don’t compare
To the average Joe, I know