HARRINGTON — When Tanner Nichols was born, his parents didn’t know if he would ever walk.
Last fall, however, the 5-year-old ran cross-country with the team from Harrington Elementary School, successfully completing half-mile races during meets held in Jonesport.
It was not difficult to pick him out of the lineup. He was the boy wearing a brace on his right foot.
“He runs kind of on the side of his foot,” said his mom, Moriah.
Tanner was born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita or AMC, the symptoms of which include club feet. This means his feet rotate inward and upward at the ankle. Tanner’s wrists rotate in a similar fashion.
By the time Tanner was 2 weeks old, he was wearing casts designed to treat his feet. At 3 months, he had surgery and was back in casts that were changed once a week. At least one doctor told the family Tanner would never walk.
“He ended up walking when he was 22 months old,” Moriah said.
Since then, Tanner has had other surgeries and, at one time, was in a cast from the tip of his toes to his upper thigh. He will need braces for the foreseeable future, probably until he is in high school. At that point, the condition should be corrected.
Tanner now wears two braces — one on each foot — 23 hours a day. During the hour break, Tanner is concerned that they aren’t off too long.
“He’s very conscious that that’s what is keeping his feet straight,” said his dad, Matt. “This is what helps him.”
Tanner, who plans to run cross-country again this fall, has also played basketball but missed this past season due to surgery. He will start playing T-ball this spring, said his parents as Tanner zipped through the house with his brother, Brice, 7. The only remarkable difference was that while Brice was barefoot, Tanner wore his braces, which look something like open ski boots.
“He has such a great personality that he has rolled with the punches,” Moriah said.
When Tanner was a baby, treatment for his condition was more difficult because his parents could not explain it to him.
“We’d be crying when we were putting his braces on,” Moriah said.
Matt said Tanner was constantly uncomfortable and cried inconsolably. One night he had to prop his son up in bed against his own body.
“That was the only way I could get him to sleep act all,” he said.
One of the best resources the family found was the Shriners Hospital for Children in Greenville, S.C., which includes a clinic that specializes in AMC.
“They will take care of you no matter what your insurance is,” Moriah said.
When Moriah accompanies Tanner to South Carolina, Matt and Brice enjoy special time together. This includes going out for pizza and renting movies, especially Avengers movies, Brice’s favorite.
“We have solid Brice and Daddy time,” Matt said. “He enjoyed the time that we had so much that he didn’t really feel like he was missing out.”
Although the family is financially stable, repeated trips can get costly. Fortunately, Moriah and Tanner, who have made eight or nine trips so far, were able to get transportation through Angel Flight and Patient Airlift Services and lodging through Ronald McDonald House. Since having his most recent surgery in December, Tanner will need to go back to South Carolina about once every three months.
Without the aid of the nonprofits, “We would have been in debt up to our eyeballs,” Moriah said.
When Harrington event planner Ryan Michaels Colson approached the family about holding a benefit for Tanner, they accepted — with plans to donate the proceeds to the organizations that helped them.
The fundraiser, a pro wrestling show, will take place at Narraguagus Junior/Senior High School at 6 p.m. Saturday, April 27. Matt will be a part of the show, though he doesn’t yet know what part he will play.
“Ryan wants it to be a surprise,” he said.