Nathaniel Schrader, 8, is a cute, little boy with light brown hair, blue eyes and amazing freckles. He loves pizza, SpongeBob Squarepants and playing with his best buddies, Matt Keim and Sam Jugus.
He also has hemiparesis, a form of cerebral palsy that left him paralyzed on the left side after he suffered a stroke in-utero. So this Sunday, May 4, he and his parents, Steve, 36, and Dede, 35, and brother Jason, 6, will participate in a fund-raiser in their Chantilly community of Pleasant Valley.
Beginning at 11:30 a.m. at the Pleasant Valley pool off Cub Run Road, they and others will walk a mile to Richard Jones Park. Then they'll feast on picnic lunches they brought and play in their community's Spring Fling games and other activities, including a free Raging Reptile show.
Proceeds go to CHASA (Children's Hemiplegia and Stroke Association), a national, nonprofit, stroke support-group. The organization provides needed support and information to more than 450 families and professionals (see www.chasa.org). Tax-deductible pledges for Nathaniel's walk may be made payable to CHASA and sent to: Steve Schrader, 15252 Louis Mill Drive, Chantilly, VA. 20151, ATTN: CHASA.
Children with hemiparesis may have problems with speech and language, vision, seizures, learning and movement on one side of their body. Proceeds from Sunday's fourth annual walk — which is being done in other CHASA children's hometowns throughout the country — will help send needy families to the annual CHASA retreat, June 28-July 3, in Fort Worth, Texas.
"At last year's retreat in Hershey, Pa., Nathaniel got a self-esteem boost," said his mother. "The older kids with hemiparesis showed him which musical instruments could be played with one hand, and he even learned some one-handed magic tricks."
"He gets to be with kids who've had it longer than he has, and he, in turn, serves as a role model for the younger kids," she added. "It's four days of the year where he's one of the crowd. He's not special — he's just the same as everyone else, and he thrives on it."
The local 2002 CHASA walk raised more than $1,300, and the Schraders hope it'll do the same, this time. Children, friends and siblings may walk, skip, be pushed in a stroller, carried by backpack or be pulled in a wagon by parents.
Unable to have children, the Schraders adopted Nathaniel at birth. But around 3 months old, his mother noticed him reaching across his body with his right hand, instead of his left, to reach things on his left side. Eventually, a neurologist diagnosed him with cerebral palsy but, luckily, it won't get progressively worse.
Furthermore, with his parents' upbeat, can-do attitude, and the support of other caring adults and friends, he's managing life just fine. Whenever he encounters an obstacle, he and his parents buckle down and devise a creative solution.
"I tell him that, just because he does something different doesn't mean it's wrong," said his mom. "He can do some things better with one hand, like Nintendo, than I can as an adult with two hands, because of all the controls and buttons."
With just one working hand, Nathaniel ties his shoes, cuts his meat at dinner, zips up his coat and plays Nintendo. He also snowboards, rides a bike and swims — singlehandedly and using only half his body. In January, he had heel-cord surgery, but bounced back quickly and went right back to Rollerblading and playing baseball.
"The muscles in his left leg were so tight, because of the cerebral palsy, that his right leg was longer than his left," said Dede Schrader. "The operation lengthened his left leg so they'd be equal. For eight years, he always walked on his toes on that side, because his left leg was an inch shorter. Now he can walk and run, heel-toe. He just has to relearn how to do it that way."
She said doctors waited to do the procedure so that Nathaniel would be taller than half his adult height — he's more than 4 feet, now — so it won't have to be done again. Next will come a tendon transfer in his left arm.
"The tendon going down this arm is so tight that it pulls his hand almost into a fist," explained Schrader. "So they'll switch it with the looser tendon on the top [of his arm] and then his hand won't be facing down, anymore. It'll be more open so he can, for example, brace himself if he falls. It'll be more useful to him and will be less stress on his wrist. We'll probably do it next winter."
She also tells Nathaniel that, even if he's not the best athlete, he has other talents, such as people skills and a kind and caring heart. For example, he's already reassuring a neighbor's daughter that he'll help her when she starts kindergarten in the fall at Virginia Run Elementary, where he's in second grade. Said his mom: "He said he'll walk her to class, and he told her she doesn't have to worry because he'll be there for her."
On Monday, Nathaniel said he wants to go to a waterpark in Texas and play on a moonbounce. At home, he likes his Game Cube and Game Boy and playing spies and superheroes outside with friends Matt and Sam. Some other favorite things, he said, are watching Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network, eating chicken nuggets and Hershey bars and having recess at school. And someday, said Nathaniel, he wants to be a paleontologist with his bud, Sam.