Nearly 16 years ago, Tiera Johnson of Ellenwood, Georgia, had to make a decision that would change her 9-month-old son’s life forever.
Jankee Johnson was born with Tibial Hemimelia in both his legs. Those afflicted have malformations throughout their shortened legs, joints, bones, and muscles.
With the rare condition, doctors warned that Jankee would potentially be severely disabled if the did not amputate his legs.
In Jankee’s case, he had no tibial bones, which is one of the most severe malformations. Doctors told Tiera that she had a choice.
She would need to choose between giving him a life of disability where Jankee would be confined to a wheelchair with continuing medical needs, or double amputation. “I just prayed about it, and pray and pray and pray. I didn’t know what to do,” Tiera told Humankind.
Tiera found the courage to choose amputation below the knees, a better prognosis for her child. Jankee began using prosthetics at age one; they are all he has ever known.
And because of that decision, Jankee was afforded a normal childhood of school, friends, and activities. He’s energetic, driven, adventurous, and fearless.
In middle school, he took an interest in Tuba — in part because no one else did. “I’d take my instrument home everyday. Every time I’d mess up, I have to start back over,” Jankee recalled of his early years as a musician.
Things change a bit when we enter high school, there’s added pressure to prove ourselves and establish our social rankings. Undeterred, Jankee set his sights on the marching band at Cedar Grove High School.
Not only does he march, he’s the section leader of the trombone section (he plays both instruments) and the student assistant director of the entire band!
Accepted among a close-knit community of young musicians, his peers don’t see him as “different,” they see him as competition — friendly, motivating competition.
Jankee loves learning new music and has begun writing his own. He lives by his own wise words, “If you’re doing something, and you don’t like what you’re doing, then what’s the point of doing it?”
While Jankee has prosthetics for everyday tasks that make him average height, he uses special prosthetics for activities such as marching and sports. Technological advancements have created specialized prosthetics optimized for whatever activity desired (i.e. runners with amputations).
Regular prosthetics are not designed for specialized activities and would prove too difficult for Jankee to use and keep time, crucial to marching band participation.
Instead he has a set he uses for sports and marching he calls “Slippers” that allow him to move smoothly, in part due to being closer to the ground.
Tiera’s painstaking decision all those years ago opened doors for her son to become an amazing and inspirational young man.
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