Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Born disabled, Fairfield teen prepares to head to college



Isac Rangel talks about his future plans to attend the University of Oklahoma. (Rick Roach/RRoach@TheReporter.com)
When he was young, Isac Rangel used to sit and watch the other kids run and play. He wanted to run with them, to jump and skip and leap. He would have loved to chase after his classmates in a friendly game of tag or simply to hop, climb and play alongside them at recess. It's just that the casts on his legs and crutches on his arms wouldn't allow it. A couple of months from now, however, Isac and his classmates will graduate from Fairfield's Rodriguez High School -- and the 17-year-old will walk right alongside them thanks to his own indomitable spirit, the love of his family and the selfless giving of a philanthropic organization with roots dating back nearly 150 years in this country.

Isac was born in 1995. He was 15 weeks premature and weighed just 3 pounds, 6 ounces. There was bleeding around his brain for the first few weeks of his life and doctors couldn't say if he'd survive. He did, though, and by the time his parents brought him home a month later, he weighed 5 pounds, 6 ounces. His   parents, however, couldn't breathe easy. At 8 months old, he still wasn't crawling or even trying to sit up. His parents knew something was wrong but the doctors couldn't pinpoint a problem. His mother, Barbara Huddleston, told The Reporter in 2000 that at the time she felt helpless. "You go home with a baby that has disabilities and what do you do? No doctors ever said what would happen next," she said.

That's when the Shriners stepped in.

Huddleston's grandfather had been a member of the Masons, the oldest, largest and most widely known fraternity in the world. Her mother suggested she contact the Shriners, the philanthropic social arm of the Masons. The Shriners operate hospitals across the country, including Shriners Hospital for Children Northern California, located in Sacramento. Within its walls, the family would find the answers they so desperately sought.

Within half an hour of his first visit to the hospital, they had a diagnosis: spastic cerebral palsy. And they were told that Isac could be helped. The Reporter has profiled Isac's struggles including his successful surgery on the tendons in his legs in 2002, which was followed by months of physical therapy -- all of it paid for by Shriners. "They never left us hanging," Huddleston said. "They are absolutely amazing. Anytime we needed anything, they were there. If we needed a ride to the hospital, it was provided."

Isac's gratitude to the organization is obvious, as well, as he proudly shows off items garnered over the years, including a signed football and photo with San Francisco 49ers great Jerry Rice. Today, the Fairfield teen is able to stand and walk without the aid of crutches, though some recent troubles with his legs have him under doctors orders to use the crutches more often and to have friends help him carry his backpack between classes, to ease the pressure. They don't seem to mind, as Isac can scarcely take a step on campus without someone saying hello or asking how he's doing. "It seems like when I was little, I was always a little sad," he said. "I felt different. Friends would hang out but when they wanted to go outside, I couldn't. That has changed as I've gotten older and now it's like I know a lot of people from every grade at school and my friends and I find things we can all do together. They are all just really good about making sure I'm OK."

He's a good student, too; currently in the top 9 percent of his class. And that explains his most recent triumph -- Isac has been accepted to attend the University of Oklahoma. "I applied and was accepted also at Nevada, Arizona and Montana," he said proudly. But Oklahoma is what he had his heart and mind sent on, in part because he has extended family members who live just 30 miles away from the campus and a cousin within a 10-minute drive, if needed. His planned area of study includes marine biology. In Oklahoma? Isac just smiles when he's asked that question.

"I can get the basic science done there and then come back to California for focused study," he explained. The other part of his planned studies can also be completed at Oklahoma. Isac wants to learn to design prosthetics. "I want to try to give back what I can," he explained. "I know a lot of prosthetics are not waterproof and I thought about that and I would like to maybe work on a way to make that easier so people with prosthetics could go for a swim or whatever." When he was little, he wanted to be one of those kids who would walk or swim or run. As he prepares for college, Isac is showing everyone he's ready to fly.

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