Alyssia's Choice: A dream fulfilled | News
HUDSONVILLE, Mich. (WZZM) -- Life as a teenager is about feeling free to be competitive, exuberant, and happy. It's no different for Alyssia Crook -- despite some not so obvious limitations.
Alyssia's parents, Chad and Karen, are missionaries. But it was on a personal mission trip to the Ukraine in 2003 that they found the special girl who would become their daughter.
"We had decided a long time ago that we wanted to adopt children," says Chad Crook. "We told them it was okay if we had a girl with some minor impairments.
The Crooks visited several Ukrainian orphanages, and found Alyssia.
"Standing at the side of the crib looking up at me...those eyes," Chad remembers. "I knew this was the one."
A month after finding Alyssia, they brought her home to West Michigan and to Helen DeVos Children's Hospital to repair a sever cleft lip and palate. Alyssia's life had improved -- or so it seemed.
"We began to notice some things about Alyssia...things about her leg," says Chad.
Doctors ran a series of tests on her left leg, which revealed a deformity called Popliteal Pterygium Syndrome. It's a rare condition that prohibits the legs from developing properly, compromising circulation and causing sharp pain.
It forced the Crooks to make a decision -- proceed with a double amputation or try to correct the leg through dozens of operations.
The family chose to fight.
Between medical procedures, Alyssia pursued a dream -- playing basketball at Baldwin Middle School. She tried out and was cut, but she took a spot as a scorekeeper.
Alyssia remained happy, staying active and living life fully -- until an old problem resurfaced. The procedures to repair her legs were not working.
Doctors gave Alyssia another choice. She could have both legs shortened by eight inches, effectively ending all of her sports activities...or amputate just one leg to save the other.
Alyssia pondered the choice, and then told her mom about a vision she had at school.
"'I just kind of stared at the table and I saw a boy and a girl playing soccer'," Karen remembers Alyssia saying. "'I saw myself playing with them and I had a prosthetic leg. All at the same time, Mom, I saw that and got it -- those were my kids.'
"'I know now, Mom'," Alyssia told her mother. "'I heard from God. It's my body, my life, my leg, my decision, my choice...and Mom, I am choosing to be a mom that can play with her kids. It's time to cut off my leg'."
That time was rapidly approaching, but there was still a chance to fulfill one dream.
Steve Roth, the girl's basketball coach at Baldwin Middle School, let Alyssia practice with the team. "We caught her up to speed," he says. "Then I was thinking, 'I can do more than just let her practice'."
That's when Alyssia was given a jersey and a pair of shorts.
"That's all this girl needed," says Karen. "She was in hog heaven just from that."
Then Alyssia took part in warm-ups before a game.
"We are like, 'Is she? Is she?" remembers Karen.
"'Do you think they're going to...'" said Chad.
"'No'," said Karen.
"I can find four or five minutes to get her in a game," Roth shares. "I said, 'Go out there and do the best you can.' She was tough, scrappy, and fun to watch."
"That's all this girl needed," says Alyssia's mother, Karen.
Alyssia realized her dream of playing for her Eagles team, and an entire community cheered her on. She ran with the team up and down the court, and even took a free throw.
"When that thing went through, I just came unglued," remembers Chad. "When parents see their kids do something amazing like that, it's like I might never get a chance to see that again."
It was a game few would likely remember who actually won, but one where everyone would remember who played.
Alyssia will have her left leg amputated from the knee down on Thursday, May 19, at a Chicago hospital. She will recover there for three days and then come home to Hudsonville on Monday. Alyssia will spend a month healing. Afterwards she will return to Chicago be fitted for a prosthetic and begin rehabilitation.
While the amputation will end the complications with Alyssia's left leg, doctors say her right leg -- which is not as severely compromised -- will continue to be evaluated and could be saved.