SEBASTIAN -- Tyler Manning of Sebastian had one wish after he developed cancer in his right leg.
The 12-year-old Sebastian River Middle School student wanted a chance to swim with the dolphins.
But after having his leg amputated in 2009, Tyler thought he would never be able to swim again, much less with dolphins.
Thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and a custom-made, donated prosthesis, Tyler fulfilled his dream when he swam with the dolphins in Cozumel, Mexico on June 17 while on a weeklong Carnival cruise.
The waterproof prosthesis, which was created by Mike Hudak from Advanced Prosthetics and Orthotics in Orlando, cost between $5,000 and $8,000 to manufacturer. Hudak volunteered to create the prosthesis and collaborated with component manufacturers through Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics of Jacksonville Beach to have all of the materials donated.
“I used to work in New Jersey where we had a lot of surfers,” said Hudak. “But this prosthetic is different because it flexes at the ankle and if he wants to go scuba diving, you can even attach a fin.”
Although Tyler didn’t scuba dive in the Caribbean, he was able to swim in the ocean, as well as the ship’s saltwater pool.
“It was pretty cool,”” said Tyler. “I was able to swim with the dolphins, and they pushed me along on a boogie board. I danced with them, and hugged them. I had a great time.”
The dolphin experience was just one of several shore excursions that Tyler, his sister Kayla, 16, and his parents Tonya and Belden Manning, enjoyed during the Western Caribbean cruise.
“Carnival went out of their way for us,” said Tonya Manning. “They told us to pick whatever we wanted to do in each port and they would make all of the arrangements. We also had a behind-the-scenes tour of the ship, we met the dancers, toured the kitchens and met the captain.”
Tyler was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, a rare form of cancer in the soft tissues that invades the tendons, joints and muscles in between bones, in January 2009.
After enduring extensive chemotherapy treatments that year, the cancer still managed to make its way to Tyler’s bone marrow, forcing doctors at Shands Hospital in Gainesville to amputate his leg below the knee.
He will return to Shands this month for further tests to see that he remains cancer-free.
“He’s still very active,” said Tonya Manning. “He’s a good hopper when he’s not wearing his leg and really does very well. Tyler doesn’t let anything slow him down.”
But that was not always the case. After the leg was amputated, Tyler was unable to wear a prosthesis at all because he required two surgeries to his leg to deal with an infection.
“We didn’t get his ‘water leg’ until right before we went on the cruise,” said Tonya Manning. “We weren’t really sure how it would work out but he did just great with it.”
Tonya Manning wasn’t quite so lucky however. After swimming with her family at the Dolphin exhibit in Cozumel, she fell down several stairs and broke her ankle. Still, the family remains positive about their experience with Make-A-Wish, and encourages other families with critically ill children to apply for the program.
Make-A-Wish candidates are nominated for the program and must be diagnosed with a life-threatening illness by a physician.
Nationwide, the foundation grants more than 13,000 wishes each year through 67 chapters across the United States.
For Tyler’s dad Belden, spending time with his family on the cruise was a wonderful gift.
“The cruise was so nice for all of us,” said Belden Manning. “It was a great stress reliever for all of us after the past few years. Carnival took great care of us and Make-A-Wish made Tyler’s wish come true. That’s what really matters.”