Ten years post-amputation, cancer survivor exudes courage



Whether he’s battling cancer or training for a gold medal in the Paralympic Games, Garrison has never been one to give up easily – even in the face of tremendous adversity. 

In February 2005, then 6-year-old Garrison began to experience tenderness in his left knee. After visiting his pediatrician and getting an X-ray, Garrison was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a cancerous bone tumor. Garrison was immediately sent to Children’s Hospital Colorado where he met with Dr. Travis Heare, a renowned orthopedic oncologist.

Over the next few months, Garrison endured endless tests and chemotherapy. But the tumor remained stubbornly imbedded in his leg. After weighing several procedural options, the difficult decision was made: Garrison would have part of his leg amputated in order to give him the best chance of survival and highest quality of life.

Garrison’s form of amputation is called a Van Ness procedure or rotationplasty, a complex surgery that involves removing a section of the leg from just above the knee to just above the foot, preserving the ankle joint. The ankle and foot are then rotated 180 degrees and reattached backward to a patient’s upper leg. For Garrison and other Van Ness procedure patients, the ankle joint acts as a knee joint, powering the body’s motion forward, when the backwards-facing foot is fit into a prosthetic.

For Garrison, the procedure meant a way to continue pursuing his athletic passions post-amputation.

10 years later

Today, 10 years after his diagnosis, Garrison is cancer-free. He is an active and accomplished 16-year-old who juggles high school honors classes with track and field, cycling, basketball and skiing.

Garrison also makes regular visits to Children’s Colorado to meet with other patients and their families who are considering the same procedure or kids who are going through chemotherapy.

“It gives them perspective and encouragement,” said Garrison’s dad, Chris Hayes.

Although Garrison is gifted in many areas, his true passion is track and field. Garrison has set national records and received many medals and awards. He recently received the 2014 Athlete with a Disability Recognition Award from the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame for his outstanding athletic performances.

In 2016, Garrison hopes to qualify for the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. He has been intensely training twice daily to prepare. His father serves as his primary coach.

After discovering his son had such a strong passion for athletics, Chris received his certified coaching license so he would be better able to help train Garrison as well as other disabled athletes. Chris said it’s been rewarding to see him grow and compete with others.

“One of the things I have enjoyed seeing out of all of this is watching him go to national and international events and see him create friendships with other athletes,” said Chris.

Support system  

Garrison said he would not be where he is today without the support of his parents, brother, sister and Children’s Colorado.

“They created opportunities I wouldn’t have anywhere else,” said Garrison. “The doctors and caregivers saved my life, and they continue to support me.”

Garrison plans to attend college after graduating high school, and hopes to pursue a career in medicine or prosthetics, where he will be able to help others the way he was helped.  

Whether it is speaking at events, meeting with patients at Children’s Colorado, or competing in national and international sporting events, Garrison seems to exude courage every single day.

“Courage is standing back up after you’ve fallen for the hundredth time,” said Garrison. “It’s reflecting on what you can do and how you can continue to grow despite a disability or difficulty.”

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