Sean Brame: Unstoppable 11-Year Old Delivers Message of Hope, Perseverance

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By Sherry Metzger

An autumn day in April 2005 that started with a game of soccer ended with a trip to the emergency room and a nine-year-old fighting for his life.

Sean Brame swims with dolphins in San Diego, California.
Sean Brame swims with dolphins in San Diego, California

What began as a broken ankle for young Sean Brame quickly progressed into sepsis. The Brame family of York Haven, Pennsylvania, held together to help Sean recover from double below-knee amputations, the loss of his right hand at the wrist, and several fingers on his left hand. Now 11, Sean has accomplished his athletic goals, testified at parity hearings, and traveled as a Make-A-Wish Foundation® recipient.

Sean's mom Carol recalls her son waking up in the middle of the night with a scorching 105-degree temperature. "I drove him to the hospital at 2 AM, and his body was shaking," she says. "When I got there, I couldn't find the hospital entrance, and when I screamed, 'Somebody please help me,' a homeless man came over and carried Sean." The next several minutes were intense as doctors, nurses, and residents rushed to care for Sean, who was taken by ambulance to Children's Hospital at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Hershey, Pennsylvania. Sean spent 17 weeks in the hospital's pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) recovering from the infection and subsequent amputations. "Doctors said it was a miracle that Sean survived," Carol says. "They never knew what treatment to use, but they tried everything and sent in every specialist to try to figure out how to beat the infection."

Community, Athletes Rally for Sean

Sean bravely faced the doctors' decision to amputate with the support of friends and family. "Everyone was praying for him," Carol says. "His best friend since nursery school came to the hospital before Sean's surgery and crawled into bed with him. Once we knew he was going to survive, we thought we were so lucky that he would be coming home. We didn't have to face cancer or brain [injury]." While Sean was in the hospital, Carol created a "CarePage" on www.carepages.com , a website that allows people to create free web pages to help family and friends communicate when a loved one is receiving care. She says that more than 3,700 personal messages have been left for Sean. "Kids were collecting coins at church, soldiers in Iraq were praying for him, and kids at his elementary school raised $18,000 for us to get a van ramp," Carol says. "Sean's recovery was a community effort."

While Sean was in the hospital, members of the Harrisburg City Islanders professional soccer club paid him a visit. "They thought they were just there to give a kid an autograph. But when they saw Sean, those grown men cried," says Carol. Sean inspired them as much as they encouraged him to get better by giving him an official jersey and making him an honorary member of their team. According to the team website, www.cityislanders.com ," Since that first visit, Sean has continuously amazed and inspired every member of the organization with his determination, desire, and whatever it takes' attitude." On March 5, 2007, the team announced that a scholarship fund benefiting City Islanders Academy players would be named the Sean Brame Annual Scholarship. Sean will present the award himself to the person who submits the best essay describing what "whatever it takes" means to them. "The City Islanders scholarship announcement hit me a bit hard," says Carol. "It is a huge honor, but it made me think how close we were to this scholarship being a memorial scholarship. I wouldn't have chosen this life for Sean, but I thank God he's still here."

Sean Motivates Others

Sean celebrates a Red Land victory with his first Red Land run...
Sean celebrates a Red Land victory with his first Red Land run...

Knowing how much Sean loves sports, Carol called in some favors to motivate her son to strengthen his body and help him recover. She told Red Land Patriots football coach Frank Gay that she needed a reason to get Sean up and moving again. Sean joined the team for practices, doing sit-ups, and even running with them. In fact, Sean took his first public steps as he walked onto the field with the seniors at their last home game of the season. A year later, Sean made a deal with the players that he would run the length of the football field every time they won. They won 13 times that season. Because the team wanted to see Sean run after every game, they said he became their motivation to win. Sean had to use duct tape on his Otto Bock prosthetic feet because he was wearing them out. The team asked Sean if they could have those feet to mount next to their district trophy.

...plays in his first soccer game...
...plays in his first soccer game...

"I don't know what I would have done without my prosthetic legs," Sean says, after reporting that he recently resumed playing soccer. "They give me my mobility, help me get around at school, play soccer, and climb Diamond Head." Sean reached the rim of Diamond Head, a volcanic crater located on the southeast coast of O'ahu, Hawaii, by climbing 277 steps. The trip was made possible by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an organization that grants wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses, which sent the Brame family on the all-expense paid trip to O'ahu last December. "Sean wanted to see a volcano, and his brother Patrick wanted to visit Pearl Harbor," says Carol. "Sean didn't want to go on the trip until he could walk. It was a wonderful experience."

As Sean climbed to the top, others who saw him were inspired to complete the hike. Sean enjoys inspiring and helping others so much that he became an Amputee Coalition of America (ACA) peer visitor by participating in the daylong training event at Bryn Mawr Rehabilitation Hospital, Malvern, Pennsylvania. "To the best of my knowledge, Sean may be the youngest person to not only take the training, but he successfully passed the test on the full day of training," says Dick Nickle, Amputee Support Team (AST) president and ACA certified peer visitor trainer. "A year ago, the ACA awarded Sean an honorary peer visitor certificate for his positive influence on other persons with limb loss at the Hershey Medical Center. Sean is a natural at inspiring others to do better."

...and participates in the Pinewood Derby with his fellow scouts.
...and participates in the Pinewood Derby with his fellow scouts.

In an ongoing effort to encourage other amputees, Sean testified at a Pennsylvania parity hearing last November. "Sean spoke candidly about his illness and the prostheses he wears. When a member of the committee asked how things worked, Sean took off his leg and arm, put them on the conference table, and said, 'Here, take a look for yourself,'" explains Carol. "He impressed the co-sponsor of the bill so much that Rep. [Bernie] O'Neil has asked permission to change the bill to 'Sean's Bill.' When it is passed, it will go into the books with the nickname 'Sean's Law.'"

Sean, who likes to change his leg coverings to match his mood and outfits, says he likes his "fancy prosthetic socks" and legs. Sean says that someday he'll design a better hand so that kids don't have to look like Captain Hook. "I can understand how prosthetics work, and I can make them for myself," he says, adding this advice: "Don't give up hope. Bad stuff happens, but life moves on and life gets better."

Sherry Metzger, MS, is a freelance writer with degrees in anatomy and neurobiology. She is based in Westminster, Colorado, and can be reached at  sherry@opedge.com