Seven year old, Cody McCasland has been on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Oprah, and Dateline, to name a few. He has run in marathons and triathlons. He’s met people like astronauts, Olympic athletes, Paralympic athletes, professional football players, and race car drivers. When you see this little boy being interviewed, his great big smile and contagious laughter draw you instantly to him. The fact that he is a double amputee that walks on two carbon blades is quickly forgotten. By all appearances, you would never know that when this little boy was born, his parents were told to say their goodbyes because their newborn baby would never make it through the first 24 hours of his life.
Seeing Cody for the first time on Dateline was like watching a young Nick Vujicic. He already had that spark, that engaging twinkle in his eye, by the age of 7. I contacted Tina McCasland through an email and asked her if she would like to share her story with iamviable. We exchanged phone numbers and talked a few weeks later. This is their story:
At 27 weeks into her pregnancy, Tina and her husband, Mike were getting ready to go out of town when she noticed that something just didn’t seem right. She couldn’t pin point what it was but told Mike what she was feeling and they headed straight to doctor’s office. As soon as she walked in, her doctor said, “You’ve dropped!” And proceeded to run out of the room.
“Get the sonogram in here!” She heard him yell down the hall, the whole tone of the examination had suddenly changed. After studying the sonogram for a few minutes he said, “You’re 70% effaced and we need to put you on bed rest immediately.”
“But we’re leaving for California, you mean we shouldn’t go?”
“You don’t understand, you’re going home, you’re putting bricks under the foot of your bed, and the end of the couch and you’re not moving.”
After some time at home, Tina ended up in the hospital after having contractions. Ultrasounds being done every few days. After one examination, the perinatologist said, “Your child is going to be born with an abnormal heart.” Tina’s first thoughts were of all of the surgeries that might be needed in order to correct her baby’s heart. A pediatric cardiologist performed another heart sonogram and felt that everything would be fine but she wanted to be present with Tina for the baby’s delivery.
Even though Tina was having sonograms every few days, doctors never picked up on any other issues because of the way the baby was positioned. After two weeks, Tina was allowed to go home. Things were under control with medication and her labor had been stopped.
At 34 weeks, doctors decided to deliver the baby by cesarean section because he had stopped growing and the amniotic fluid was decreasing. More ultrasounds were done and it was noticed that one leg seemed shorter than the other but the way the baby was positioned, they couldn’t see the whole leg. Tina went into surgery thinking that if anything might be wrong with her little baby, it might be his heart.
Immediately after the baby was delivered, Mike knew that there were other complications. The baby boy, who they named, Cody, had only 4 toes on his right foot, his legs didn’t look quite right and he wasn’t breathing on his own. Cody was whisked off to the NICU and Mike was told to follow but not to say anything to Tina about the baby’s condition. Tina stayed behind, still in surgery.
After being examined, the doctors told Mike, ” Your child has bladder syndrome, you should say goodbye to him because he won’t make it through the first 24 hours.” He was in shock at that point, all of this was new to him and then, he also had to find a way to tell Tina.
Tina just couldn’t believe it, there was something about Cody, she knew he was a fighter. She firmly believed that he was going to make it. With a background of working with medically fragile babies, Tina’s focus immediately turned to how they were going to get through these things. It was not on if her baby would make it through the night, it was how he was going to survive.
Because of her experience as a social worker, helping to get medically fragile babies adopted, Tina knew that doctors tend to give, “a worst case scenario” often times because of liability and mal practice law suits.
The most serious of Cody’s problems were the intestinal issues, they weren’t even focused on his legs in the beginning. Cody got moved to another hospital that could perform a necessary, specialized surgery the very next day, 25 miles away from Tina. She told the doctors that she was going to leave with him but they convinced her to stay until the next morning. They actually checked her out that night without her leaving so that Tina could go first thing in the morning and be there for the surgery. She wanted desperately to be with Cody, she felt that just hearing her voice was going to help make Cody stronger. She knew that she needed to do everything she could to focus on getting him through each day. Cody remained in the NICU and was released 23 days and 2 surgeries later.
Once Tina and Mike knew that one issue was resolved, they moved onto the next. They chose to move their small family from California out to Texas where Tina’s mother also lived. Cody began his care at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital. They had never gotten an official diagnosis of Cody’s condition. She and Mike were doing quite a bit of research on the internet and being as proactive as possible. Doctors confirmed what they had discovered, Cody had Caudal Regression Syndrome which ranges in severity, from the complete absence of the sacrum to a few vertebrae, decreased movement of the legs, anomalies of the central nervous, musculoskeletal, urinary, cardiac, respiratory and intestinal symptoms.
Cody spent much time, going in and out of the hospital with breathing complications, abdominal adhesions, infections, complications from asthma, surgeries and recovery time. At one point, a doctor assured them that Cody’s brain would be fine, that he would be able to do anything that he wanted to do, he could even be a doctor or a scientist but he would probably have to do everything from a wheelchair.
That’s what threw Tina for a loop, thinking about how Cody would get around. They really didn’t know how to use a wheelchair or anyone who used one, what were his options going to be? They wanted Cody to be able to have an active and fulfilling lifestyle. So, that became their next focus, how to give him the most fulfilling lifestyle possible.
Cody had an MRI of his hips and legs. He was missing his tibia and knees, both on the right and left sides. Tina and Mike had to make the choice as to leave Cody with legs that would not function which meant using a wheelchair or, have their little boy’s legs amputated so that he would have the opportunity to walk using prosthetics. They choose to have the bilateral amputation but first, he needed surgery to fix his dislocated hip and then spend three months in a spica cast which totally immobilized both his hips and thighs.
At 15 months of age, both of Cody’s legs were amputated at the knee. Later that very same day, Cody was already trying to stand on his stumps. Tina and Mike were amazed with how Cody always kept his cheery disposition no matter what it seemed he had to go through.
One month later, Tina and Mike were at the hospital for a support group for parents that had children who were amputees. Cody was in another room set up for the children. A professional athlete was also there, playing with the kids. The Scottish Rite PR people came into the parent’s meeting and asked Tina and Mike if it would be alright to take pictures of Cody with the athlete. Everyone was amazed at this little boy who had just had his legs amputated and there he was, crawling all over the floor and catching everyone’s heart. He was so little and yet people were already being drawn to Cody’s constant smile and his contagious laughter.
From that point on, Cody became the poster boy for Texas Scottish Rite Hospital. At the age of three, Cody was asked to be a Dallas White Rock Marathon Jr. Race Director for a race which specifically benefits the Scottish Rite Hospital where Cody has received such excellent care. The McCaslands and the hospital began receiving emails from people who were affected by Cody’s story as he began to participate in different events.
Because of Cody’s bilateral amputation, this little boy was also becoming an inspiration to an unexpected group, military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan after also losing limbs. Tina says that Cody has always been able to read people very well and he’s also very insightful. When they visit military bases, some soldiers are completely open and talkative but there are others who are very withdrawn and who sit back in a crowd. At 7, Cody innately seems to know which ones are which. He knows when to say, “Hi, I’m Cody, what happened to you?” but he also knows when to say things like, “Hi, I’m Cody and these are my running legs, want to see me run?” And no one can resist that. As soon as Cody starts running, the laughter and joy spill out of him, and others are drawn into that laughter.
“Having the ability to laugh is so important for someone who has just lost a leg or for someone who has a disability, showing them that it’s still possible to enjoy life. Cody has the ability to show people that everything is going to be ok. Life is about living your life to the fullest and Cody shows people that. Cody has that ability to show people that everything really is going to be ok.
“Soldiers are big and strong but still so young, a lot of them are like 18-21 and they do so much to keep us free and safe. Here they are after just losing a limb. They don’t know what their lives are going to be like after that, then Cody comes in, laughing and smiling and playing with them. And I think for the soldiers, it just reminds them of who they are or who they were and they can still be that person. I think this little boy just touches something deep inside of them and they know that they can get up and do those same things.
“We went down to San Antonio in May and there was a soldier there who had just gotten his running legs that day and he was just starting to get up and move in them. The next day, he came up to Cody and said, “Watch, Cody! Look at me now!” And he was running on his new legs!”
Because of all that the McCaslands have been through with Cody, they have realized that there is a Higher Power that dictates where they are and where their lives are going, “I was a social worker and started off working in adoptions.” Says Tina, “There was this case that was presented to me that was a child with special medical needs and I was told, “Make this child long term foster care for the courts, he will never be adoptable.” And I said, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”
I was told, “Nope, that’s the way we do it.”
I said, “No, no, no! Give me six months and I’ll find a home for this baby.” And I did! Then they gave me another case and I did the same thing. So, I actually became the special needs social worker for all the kids that had special medical needs, including the ones that were drug addicted.
“God works in strange ways and had me completely ready for Cody. Not only that, we were in California and had decided to move to Texas. If we had not moved to Texas, we wouldn’t have had Scottish Rite Hospital and all of the services that they provide. So, we moved to a place where Cody was able to have all of his needs met. My mom also works for UT South Western Medical Center and all of the pediatric doctors there work for Children’s Medical Center, Dallas where Cody got medical care as well. We were always able to make sure we got all of the best doctors and anything and everything Cody needed. Everything just fell into place.
“I think that God selected Cody to be our child because he knew that I would not be overwhelmed by it. I knew what I needed to do and how to get it done. Now, Cody is going back and doing some of these things for other families. He has that personality about him and he has the strength inside of him to be able to go out and make others know that having a difference about yourself is not a problem, it’s just a difference.
“Cody at 7, is already thinking of swimming in the Paralympics, he’s doing a triathlon. He’s a part of Challenged Athlete’s Foundation and he’s getting ready to do a Muddy Buddy (a race which benefits CAF). It’s amazing what Cody has learned through some of his mentors. A world record holder who is an above the knee amputee marathoner from the UK has contacted Cody. He’s going to do the New York Marathon and wants to know if Cody will run the last 100 meters with him to show people that you can do it! To Cody, that’s just fun!”
Cody’s whole family has been impacted by his active life. Tina, always having been involved in singing and dance is now also running in marathons and doing triathlons! Cody’s grandfather loves modifying things for Cody, like putting hand controls on a four wheeler so Cody can do whatever they do. One of their cousins is now working with a special needs soccer team, another one is coaching special needs swimming.
And Cody’s little 3 year old sister, Caitlin has been raised not noticing the differences. One day, when their good friend, Justin who is a paraplegic came by to visit, he was working on his wheelchair out in the garage. Callie asked him, “Justin, what are you sitting in? Why are you sitting in that?”
Justin laughed and said, “Callie, are you just now realizing that I’m in a wheelchair?”
“Callie is going to be a very empathetic person who cares for everyone, regardless of what their issues are. And the kids that go to school with Cody don’t even see him as any different just because he has different legs.”
Before finishing our conversation, I had just two more questions for Tina. “What would you have done if a doctor had told you that your baby was not viable?”
“Well, not being put in that position, I don’t know how I would have responded. We really didn’t know before Cody was born what his issues would be. I’ve seen so many mistakes being made. I think I’d have to say, we’ll wait and see. For me, there would be no question, I’d have to wait and see. Even if you only get to see your child for just a couple of hours, that child is definitely something important enough to be able to say your hello’s and goodbye’s to.”
“What would you say to a family who has just found out that their child may have a disability?” I asked.
“Don’t always buy into the worst-case scenario that your doctor has told you. A lot of the strength that your child has will come from you when they are so little. Remain strong for them and think of the things your child WILL be able to do because you will find a way for those things to be done. They might not be able to do things the same way as everyone else but parents play a huge roll in all of this, it’s not always up to the doctors. You must be an active participant in your child’s care. You can’t always let the doctors tell you what to do. I have always made sure that any and every question I had was being answered. Sometimes they didn’t like the fact that I had researched things on the internet or I had gone to other doctors for second opinions but I made sure that I had as much, if not MORE information than them. I felt like always staying ahead and on top of everything. As a parent, you have to be your child’s biggest advocate.”
Born into this world with countless issues, given 24 hours to live, doctors had predicted that this tiny newborn baby would not be able to survive. Not only has Cody McCasland survived, he has overcome! He has already impacted this world more than most of us will in a lifetime.
It is through the strength of this child, who with the help of his family, has faced his issues one at a time, overcoming obstacles, with a smile and a heavy dose of laughter, that God can show the rest of this world, what it is to truly know how to live.
To learn more about Cody go to: http://www.teamcody.com/