Michael Holtz faced a life-threatening diagnosis as a child. As a result of treatment he experienced mobility challenges, but has battled through every obstacle since then with fierce determination, courage and optimism.
The 18-year-old Fairfield resident was named one of five Connecticut Children’s Isidore Wise Scholarship Award winners in 2019. He has an impressive resume of volunteer service and extracurricular activities. But his participation on the Fairfield Ludlowe High School track team was particularly gratifying, given the physical challenges he has overcome.
“I came to Connecticut Children’s for my orthopedic needs after battling brain cancer,” said Michael, a freshman at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass., where he is majoring in business and marketing. “I struggled to walk and needed to improve my gait, strength and flexibility.”
“Though I am not a track star, in my last season, I broke some of my own personal records,” Michael said. “My determination and optimism have taught me that I can succeed.”
Michael’s Initial Diagnosis
In 2004, Michael had been attending preschool with his fraternal twin brother, Thomas. It was then, at the age of 3, that Michael’s medical journey began with news of malignant brain tumors. Michael was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer called glioblastoma multiforme and was given six months to live. He was also diagnosed with hydrocephalus, a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the ventricles of the brain, which was caused by his malignant masses.
Michael underwent several surgeries as well as chemotherapy, radiation and a stem cell rescue, among other procedures.
“Cancer is devastating, but we soon realized the increased severity of a brain tumor because of its unique, pervasive effects on the body,” his father, Kevin, said.
Unexpected Mobility Challenges
Michael’s orthopedic issues brought his family to Connecticut Children’s from Stamford for specialty care when he was 6 years old. “It was imperative that Michael’s development be followed by knowledgeable, caring specialists. We chose Connecticut Children’s,” Kevin said.
“The residual effects of Michael’s brain tumor left some of his muscles spastic and tight, particularly in his heel cords and in his left calf and hamstring,” his mother, Jennifer, explained. In addition to gait disturbances, Michael ended up with a minimal leg discrepancy and mild residual left hemiparesis, which left him weaker on his left side.
At Connecticut Children’s, Michael underwent serial casting, a therapeutic intervention using a series of casts to hold and stretch muscles.
“I learned to find even more courage as I healed from cancer and began my orthopedic journey, especially during some procedures that intimidated me, like serial casting,” Michael said. “I learned that discipline would be required, and my team at Connecticut Children’s explained that I would always need to stretch and be mindful of my orthopedic needs.”
A Growing Fairfield Presence
“In 2009, we were delighted to learn that Connecticut Children’s had opened an office in Shelton, where we would be able to continue to see Michael’s orthopedic specialist,” Jennifer said. “While we were willing to drive to Hartford for some of Michael’s specific care needs, we appreciated the availability of the Stamford office and welcomed the opening of the Shelton office.”
“Illness takes such a toll on the family, so having good medical care be proximate, to reduce stress and inconvenience, is ideal,” Jennifer said. “Having more satellite offices will undoubtedly be more convenient for other patient families and increase greater access to Connecticut Children’s wonderful resources and specialists.”
In Fairfield County, Connecticut Children’s now provides services in Bridgeport, Danbury, Fairfield, Norwalk, Shelton and Stamford in specialties ranging from cardiology and gastroenterology to orthopedics, sports medicine, urology and more. Click here to find specialties near you.