Jacob Mitchell and his mom, Mary Franklin, didn’t plan to become Minnesotans when, in 2014, they drove up from Arkansas to visit family friends. But Mary quickly discovered the Twin Cities held potential—for herself and for Jacob, 18, who has cerebral palsy.
Shortly after their move to Minnesota, Mary learned about Gillette Children’s and orthopedic surgeon Benjamin Novak, MD. She admits being skeptical. Surgical interventions throughout Jacob’s childhood hadn’t had the desired effect; he still walked with a crouched gait, his knees flexed at an angle.
Mapping out the future
Jacob’s first appointment with Novak changed Mary’s perspective. “He blew my mind!” she says. “He checked Jacob over from the hips down. He said ‘Jacob, what do you want to do in the future?’”
Jacob answered Novak immediately. “I told him I wanted to run track,” he says. “I love running.” Jacob always aspired to run track but wasn’t able to in Arkansas—the physical activity strained his body too much.
Novak recommended Jacob undergo two simultaneous procedures—a distal femoral extension osteotomy (DFEO) and patellar tendon advancement (PTA)—to improve his endurance and mobility. Gillette is among the world’s first hospitals to combine the two procedures. Gillette-led research, published in the prestigious Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, indicates the two interventions can improve patients’ knee extension long-term. Cerebral palsy centers throughout the U.S. and internationally have since adopted the technique.
Motivation, football, and Aaron Rodgers
The DFEO/PTA procedures improved Jacob’s couched gait substantially. “I walk better than I used to. I walk straight without slouching and I’m able to lift weights in school,” Jacob says with pride. “I can lift 120 pounds!”
Surgery did more than improve Jacob’s gait. “He grew!” exclaims Mary. “Before, he came up to my chin. Now, he’s where my forehead is.”
Jacob points to his older brother, Emmanuel, for helping him stay motivated during his recovery from surgery. “He would tell me ‘You can do it, I believe in you, keep fighting for what you want,’” Jacob says. “It was difficult but I got through it.”
Emmanuel plays Division 1 college football and calls Jacob his inspiration. When his college newsletter wrote a profile piece on his football career and future plans, Emmanuel pointed to Jacob as his reason for wanting to pursue a career in the medical field in an effort to better understand his brother’s condition. The two have an easy camaraderie and Jacob adores his niece, Emmanuel’s daughter Olivia.
Another football hero motivated Jacob too: Aaron Rodgers, quarterback of the Green Bay Packers. A huge Packers fan, Jacob takes pride in the fact that his middle name is Aaron, and that he and Rodgers share a birthday—December 2. Jacob’s dream is to someday take in a game at Lambeau Field and meet Aaron Rodgers. “For now, I told Jacob, just be thankful we can rock his gear,” Mary says.
Now, new possibilities
Jacob plans to join the track and field team for his senior year of high school. He rode a two-wheel bike for the first time this summer, and he wants to get his driver’s license—all things that wouldn’t have been possible before surgery.
Mary credits Novak for her son’s bright future. “He did what needed to be done. I'm grateful to God for sending us Dr. Novak. He's a miracle worker for my son!"
Jacob echoes his mom’s praise—and adds another important detail about his surgeon. “He’s a great guy. We both like football; he likes the Packers too!”
Novak, likewise, commends Jacob and Mary for the successful outcome. “It takes more than a perfect surgery. Jacob worked hard in his post-surgery rehab, and his mom was super supportive. They were both motivated, and that plays a big part in it.”
Editor's note: Read more stories like Jacob's in our 2017 Annual Report!