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Boy gets rare hole in one wearing hands-free crutch

A boy who had his foot reconstructed after developing an extremely rare tumor has achieved his lifelong dream to get a hole in one at the age of just 13 – with the help of a hands-free crutch. 

Just four months ago Drake Gessell, from Winnipeg, Manitoba, was undergoing surgery to remove the vascular tumor – known as pseudomyogenic hemangioendothelioma – and rebuild his foot. There are only around 130 reported cases of the disease.

Despite not being able to walk for months, the brave schoolboy has managed to make honor roll, play sports and even bag a sought-after hole in one, with the help of a hands-free crutch called the iWALK2.0 – which is best described as a high-tech pirate leg. 

Drake’s mom, Melanie Gessell, says: “The iWALK2.0 was a game-changer for Drake. He threw away his crutches and just took off. Nothing has stopped him this summer. It has brought so much joy as he has been able to continue doing the things he loves, and he has inspired our community.”

Journey to diagnosis

Drake’s symptoms began in August 2018 when he started feeling pain in his foot. His parents thought it was a twisted ankle and encouraged him to rest it as much as possible. But when he went back to school, the pain got worse. 

X-rays couldn’t detect anything, so Drake was advised to rest and take painkillers. But Melanie wasn’t convinced so she got a second opinion. 

She says: “I took Drake to a sports clinic where they carried out a more detailed X-ray. It showed that he had lost some bone density and he was referred for a CT Scan, which revealed a lesion in his bone. Four days before Christmas, Drake had a biopsy.” 

Initially doctors thought Drake had Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare type of cancerous tumor that grows in the bones or the soft tissue around them. The family were warned that Drake would need to have his foot amputated and begin chemotherapy. There was also a risk the cancer had spread to other parts of his body. But the biopsy didn’t give a definitive diagnosis and the sample was sent to a world-renowned pathologist in Boston. 

Melanie says: “Drake had more and more tests until finally they determined that it was this rare tumor. It has a high risk of recurrence, but it rarely metastasises. We had been preparing for amputation but a specialist physician in Vancouver said they could do a reconstruction of Drake’s foot using a donor bone.” 

Melanie adds: “Drake stayed positive throughout this whole experience, he just carried on. He was so brave. We were told he would be in a cast and then a boot for six months and wouldn’t be able to walk. The only thing he was worried about was how he would play golf.” 

Going for surgery

Drake had his surgery in Vancouver in April and, despite expecting to stay in hospital for three weeks, was allowed home five days later. But that was just the start of his long journey to walk again. Melanie explains: “I’m a psychiatric nurse and I was very worried about Drake’s mental health. He is such an active guy and doesn’t sit still for a minute. I worried about how months of not being able to walk would affect him emotionally.” 

While Drake managed to get around on crutches, he was getting frustrated at not being able to play sport and tried to find inventive ways to keep active. At one point his mom caught him attempting to play golf with his knee propped up on an upside-down pail. So when her close friend Michelle spotted the iWALK2.0, an award-winning hands-free crutch originally invented by an Ontario farmer, she urged Melanie to take a look because she thought it could benefit Drake. Melanie decided to buy it, determined to find something to help Drake.   

She says: “When Drake saw it, it was like Christmas Day at our house. He gravitated to it and had it fitted and strapped on so quickly. Soon he was walking confidently hands-free. He could go fishing and air soft shooting and helped out at his school sports day. It was empowering for him to be able to join in with his classmates.” 

The biggest win for Drake was his hole in one at Portage Golf Club, where he has played all season thanks to the iWALK2.0. Melanie says: “He’s an inspiration on the course and gets lots of questions about the hands-free crutch. After the hole in one he was a local celebrity. It has inspired our whole community to see his resilience – even when you have an injury or are facing a barrier, with these devices you can accomplish a whole lot more than you ever dreamed possible.”  

Walking again

Drake is now wearing a boot and will soon begin to start walking again. He’ll need regular check-ups in case the tumor returns but is expected to make a full recovery. 

Drake says: “I’m pretty active so I really found it frustrating using crutches because I couldn’t carry things around and had to be catered to all the time. The iWALK2.0 was really easy to get used to – it only took me a day to figure it out. The best thing about it has been being able to golf. It’s actually helped my golf swing a lot – my game has improved this season!”  

Drake adds: “I get a lot of comments when I’m wearing it – people say that it’s a pretty cool contraption and then ask what happened to me. It’s made my recovery much more bearable and I’m now looking forward to being back on two feet again.” 

The iWALK2.0 is a hands-free alternative to conventional crutches for people with lower leg injuries or illnesses. The prototype was built by a farmer who broke his foot but still needed to work. He was amazed to find there wasn’t a better alternative to crutches, so he took to his workshop and, less than an hour later, the first ever iWALK was made. 

Due to the freedom his new invention represented, he named it the iWALKFree. It has come a long way since then and now it’s a carefully engineered, medically approved, award-winning device used by athletes of all levels around the world. 

Brad Hunter, President of iWALKFree, Inc, says: “Drake is a true hero. His story of determination is inspiring and epitomises what the iWALK2.0 represents. With crutches you’re disabled but with an iWALK you’re enabled – and that means that anything is possible. The only limitation is you.”