The Merry McCaugheys: The Septuplets at 8
New Year, New Skills
Nathan McCaughey is determined not to be left behind. While sister Natalie and brothers Joel Brandon and Kenny Jr. play daredevil on their bikes -- racing downhill, popping wheelies, making hairpin turns in the driveway -- Nathan tries mightily to keep up on his tricycle. "It has really fat wheels, so I can go anywhere," he says proudly of his sturdy, all-terrain minimachine. Later, inside the house, he makes the long walk from the den to the kitchen and around the 10-seat dining counter, his brow furrowed with all the concentration he can muster. His leg braces, crutches, and walker are nowhere to be seen; Nathan's halting steps are all on his own. "Don't slouch -- keep your back straight," says mom Bobbi, 37, encouragingly. The boy stops, focuses, and stands a little taller.
"Yeah, that's the way," says dad Kenny Sr., 35, who has come home early from his assembly-line job. When Nathan reaches his destination -- the hardware drawer -- he promptly fishes out a flashlight. "Dad, do you have batteries?" he asks. Kenny pops them in, and soon Nathan is on his way out the door with a grin on his face and a glint in his eye.Nathan's Successful Surgery
There's plenty of reason for smiles all around. Nathan, who has cerebral palsy, had been unable to walk unassisted since birth, the result of a related condition -- spastic diplegia -- that causes his leg muscles to tense, tighten, and stiffen uncontrollably. He underwent a four-hour operation at Gillette Children's Specialty HealthCare, in St. Paul, Minnesota, last November, during which neurosurgeons tested some 250 spinal nerve roots through an incision in his lower back in an attempt to isolate and clip partway through those adversely affecting his gait.
The procedure was a success. Six weeks of intensive physical therapy helped him take his first tentative, wobbly steps. "The surgery corrected his knees -- they're no longer bent and crooked -- allowing his feet to point forward," Bobbi says. "And that helps him stand straighter, in less of a crouched position, which helps him walk better." Nathan has since made steady progress, but there are miles to go. "He can zip through the house without stopping, but he still falls all the time, and he still needs crutches or his walker to get through the day at school," Bobbi says. Now in thrice-weekly therapy sessions, Nathan must learn to relax his upper body (he'd gotten in the habit of tensing and scrunching up) and use his abdomen and back muscles to balance himself if he's ever going to develop a more efficient stride.
Looking back on that eventful day, the McCaugheys remember a very brave little boy. Right before the operation, as friends and family -- and TV news crews -- gathered around, Nathan cried as Kenny held him in his arms. "That was out of embarrassment -- he didn't like being the focus of all that attention," Bobbi says. "What nobody except Kenny saw was that as soon as they went into the operating room, he stopped." Nathan was calm as anesthetics were administered and he was asked to count backward from 100.
"After 97, he was out," says Kenny. "Now he likes to brag to other kids that it's no big deal when they put you under." And what about Dad? Did he put on a brave face to mask his own fears? "Actually, I felt such trust that things would be fine that I wasn't at all nervous," Kenny says. "I was feeling great joy because I knew it was a big turning point for Nathan -- and a big step for him toward independence."