Mesa resident Nina Bezzant is a very active 9-year-old who hikes, swims, rock climbs, participates in a theater workshop, recently learned how to play softball at a camp and is a Harry Potter devotee.
Unlike many other fifth-graders, Nina wants to grow up to design prosthetic limbs like the one on her left leg. It’s a flower-print prosthetic that inspires her to be limitless.
Learning to play softball
The softball camp she attended was the Wounded Warriors Amputee Softball Team Kids Camp. Sponsored by Louisville Slugger, the kids camp is for 8- to 12-year-olds run by the Wounded Warriors Amputee Softball Team (WWAST) — an organization of veterans who lost limbs while serving in the military and seek to empower child amputees through softball.
The Warriors served as coaches and mentors for 20 children during the June 9-14 camp in Louisville, Ky. The camp included trips to Churchill Downs and a water park, as well as plenty of softball and camaraderie. It concluded with a final children’s game on the Louisville Slugger Field, where the children’s names were displayed on banners.
The kids camp was formed by Susan Rodio, a WWAST volunteer, in 2013 and players face able-bodied softball teams. At each of their games are batgirls and batboys with prosthetics. The Bezzant family lived in Hawaii when the softball team visited the hospital where Nina was treated, and she was invited to be a batgirl.
The team’s motto is “life without a limb is limitless” and the camp sought to relay that message to the kids.
“We’ve always told her and always believed that she really can do anything. All the coaches there were amputees and to see them successful and thriving, it was just really validating,” said Julie Bezzant, Nina’s mother.
Nina’s life and ambitions
Nina was born without her left leg a result of amniotic band syndrome, which occurs when fibrous bands restrict the baby’s blood flow while still in the womb. If a band wraps around a leg or wrist, the limb may self-amputate, according to the National Institute of Health. It affects nearly one in 1,200 live births.
“Babies with amniotic band [syndrome] have a very slim chance of being a viable pregnancy,” Julie said, “She got away with just a missing part of her leg. It’s just a scratch.”
Nina said she wants to be a prosthetic engineer — a designer of prosthetic limbs — and keeps a binder full of prosthetic designs.
“My favorite is one called the Super Peg,” Julie said, “it has a grappling hook that pops out, a plunger on the bottom so she can walk on walls and a secret compartment where she can put her favorite toys.”
The one Nina wears is a blue flower-print that extends below her left knee into her sneaker.
“We’ve always gotten one with a pattern on it; there’s no hiding what she doesn’t have and so we’ve just always let it stand out, just own it,” Julie said.
“I think Nina’s situation is unique. It’s an outward manifestation of the struggles we all have; everybody faces hard things. It’s nice to see kids like you, to know that,” she said.
Most of the Warriors lost limbs during post-9/11 combat and have adapted to their loss with innovative prosthetics. One player, Julie said, had only three fingers on one hand and is missing the other hand. He interchanges his prosthetic to play softball.
“He puts on this socket, and then he can put on an adaptation that can help him hold the bat and then he switches it out so he can catch and throw,” Julie said, “He is a fantastic athlete.”
Julie and Nina laughed and said they had just seen “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” in which a character is missing a hand and interchanges his prosthesis between tools like a brush or a spatula. It is not too far-fetched for the Warriors to have a prosthetic like that, Julie said.
Nina said she made lots of friends at the camp and that it was nice knowing there are other children like her. Julie said one of the benefits of the camp was learning about how much is out there for child amputees such as the Challenged Athletes Foundation in San Diego or gyms with modified equipment.
“There’s people out there advocating for these kids and providing opportunities for these kids,” she said.
A future without limits
Nina and Julie said they intend to seek out similar programs and perhaps take up soccer. Whatever Nina decides to do, there is very little preventing her from living a limitless life.
“What I admire most in her is her willingness to try anything; she doesn’t see obstacles. She doesn’t see them there, whether it’s a physical thing or something that she feels very nervous about.” Julie said. “At camp, we saw a lot of kids who felt shy, maybe embarrassed about their missing limbs and she’s never had that, she’s never seen it as an issue. She’s never had any idea that she should be embarrassed. Nothing stands in front of her.”
• Sam Gauvain is a junior at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She is an intern with the Tribune this semester. Reach her at email@example.com.