Aaron Navarro is a teenager from Grandview, Texas. He’s an active member of his high school debate team and runs 5K races (even though he’ll tell you that running isn’t his favorite thing).
His mother, Christine, will tell you that the fact that he is running at all is nothing short of remarkable.
Aaron was born ten weeks premature and at the age of 3, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP). CP describes a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. CP affects every child a bit differently and Aaron’s symptoms were so mild that they weren’t noticed right away.
“At the time I was active in the military and a pilot. So I’d like to think that I’m pretty smart,” Christine says. “Aaron’s symptoms were very subtle. It wasn’t until he was a bit older and you saw him around some of his peers that we began to see he wasn’t progressing at the rate of the other children.”
Author’s aside: When she says that she’s a pilot and pretty smart, it’s an egregious understatement. Christine flew KC-135 Stratotankers for the Air Force. They're the planes that refuel fighter jets in the air.
Aaron began receiving treatment for his symptoms along with beginning frequent physical and occupational therapy.
Eventually, he had surgery to lengthen one of his tendons which assuaged some of the difficulty he had in getting around. That said, Christine knew that he would require additional treatment going forward.
Trending in the Wrong Direction
Aaron led an active life following his first surgical intervention, but by the time he was 13, Christine says that Aaron’s level of mobility seemed to be headed in a downward trajectory.
“Obviously as a parent, you want your child to be on the upswing in terms of their development. It just felt like things were getting worse and worse. It took so much effort for Aaron to get around and that was quite disconcerting,” Christine says.
“Our specialists near our home laid out a surgical plan for Aaron, but I still had questions and wanted to get a second opinion. We went to Boston Children’s Hospital, as all of my research indicated that it was the best children’s hospital in the country. We met with a surgeon there, and he told us that while they could do the procedure there, we really should be talking to a surgeon named Tom Novacheck in St. Paul, Minnesota.”
Heeding the advice that they received in Boston, Christine, her husband Brian and Aaron flew out to St. Paul and met with Tom Novacheck, MD at Gillette Children’s. Christine says that it didn’t take them very long to figure out that they had come to the right place.
“It was really kind of a whirlwind to be honest. Aaron’s initial appointment was quite comprehensive. He had his gait analyzed in Gillette's Gait Lab, and that gave us a better understanding of Aaron’s CP than we had ever gotten in the past. It was illuminating,” Christine says. “Dr. Novacheck outlined a procedure called SEMLS surgery, where they would perform multiple surgeries at the same time. This meant that instead of several surgeries over the course of months, Aaron could have one procedure and get started on his recovery. That sounded pretty good to us.”
Many the Miles
Aaron had Single-Event Multilevel Surgery (SEMLS) in February of 2017, and since then his improvement has been off the charts.
Aaron and his family also recently traveled back to St. Paul for his follow-up appointment. His appointment coincided with a local 5K run (in which he was an active, albeit slightly reluctant participant), as well as a fundraising golf tournament benefitting Gillette. Aaron and his parents were in attendance and he gave a speech during the program. Tom Novacheck was by his side.
“We’ve got nothing but nice things to say about Gillette and special thanks need to go out to Dr. Novacheck,” Christine says. “He and all of the staff there supported us during a time where we were searching for answers. Without them, I don’t think Aaron would be where he is today. In addition to running his races, he’s talking about trying out for the basketball team next fall."
This post was originally published in 2019. On October 29, 2022, Aaron spoke at Gillette Children's Illuminate the Future event, celebrating our 125th year. He shared a moving - and humorous - reflection on his experience receiving care at Gillette that was met with a well-deserved standing ovation. We're grateful for Aaron's generosity in sharing his story.
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