BISMARCK, ND (AP) — JJ is a spirited 6-year-old boy who likes dinosaurs, playing basketball and snacking. He’s a kindergartner at Shiloh Christian School in Bismarck.
His life looked a lot different three years ago, before he was adopted from an orphanage in China.
JJ has a condition called bilateral dysplasia, or congenital radial longitudinal deficiency, which caused him to be born without thumbs or a radius in either arm, The Bismarck Tribune reported.
Through multiple surgeries, including three by The Bone and Joint Center’s Dr. Troy Pierce, JJ’s thumbs have been replaced by his pointer fingers, and he has undergone two surgeries to straighten his arms.
“He’s been doing great,” said his mom, Karrie Bauman. “He just has a great attitude about it.”
Earlier this week, JJ bounced around his living room, demonstrating how he can shoot a Nerf gun and play with his toy cars. He hung onto his mother as she spoke about early challenges in JJ’s life.
Bauman said she has always wanted to adopt a child to add to her family of three children, ages 20, 17, 11. Her husband, Scott, a pastor at Charity Lutheran Church, was preaching on Orphan Sunday and that’s when they decided to adopt.
Bauman said they weren’t sure what to expect with JJ when they brought him home. One day, she began to feed him and he grabbed the spoon away from her, using his pointer and ring fingers to grasp it.
“There really wasn’t much he couldn’t do,” said Bauman, adding that communicating with JJ, who didn’t know any English, was more difficult. “It was kind of amazing how he (managed).”
Besides not having the strength to grasp or pull anything, JJ was still able to do simple tasks, Bauman said. However, his condition was causing his hands to turn inward, so it would’ve been hard to continue to use his hands in this manner.
Two and a half years ago, Bauman said they took JJ to Shriners Hospital for Children for surgery on his right hand, called index pollicization, which involved transferring his pointer finger to where his thumb should be. The surgery went well, and JJ learned to adapt with his new thumb.
“A few days when the pain went down, he was back to himself and jumping around,” Bauman said.
Right after the surgery, they met Pierce, of The Bone & Joint Center in Bismarck. About six months after the initial surgery, Pierce performed the second surgery on his left hand.
JJ has had a total of four surgeries, including one on Friday, which Pierce said “went great.”
“He’s improved dramatically,” said Pierce, who spoke with JJ’s physical therapist, who told him how JJ is playing basketball “and just being a kid.”
The estimated incidence of JJ’s condition is 1 in 20,000 births, Pierce said. The cause is unknown, mostly the result of spontaneous mutation.
Transferring JJ’s index finger to his thumb position doesn’t disrupt the growth plates, so his thumbs will continue to grow with him.
Pierce also has done two ulnarization surgeries to straighten JJ’s hand.
“(If the surgery is) done properly, they get a functional wrist range of motion,” Pierce said. “It extends the hand out so they can shake hands, and it’s more functional that way. The muscles work better.”
JJ will continue doing physical therapy to strengthen, including after his latest surgery. Pierce said until he’s an adult, he’ll have periodic X-rays and check-ups to make sure everything is growing correctly.
Bauman said she’s grateful that they have had the opportunity to stay in Bismarck for JJ’s surgeries.
“(Dr. Pierce) and his staff, they are so awesome with him, and that’s just made our lives so much easier,” she said, adding that JJ admires Pierce, and even dressed up as him for a school dress up day.
As for JJ, he hopes to recover from his latest surgery so he can go play soccer this summer.