IF I COULD CHANGE THINGS, I WOULD LOVE FOR HIM TO HAVE NEVER BEEN SICK AND LOST HIS LEG, BUT WE HAVE BEEN TESTED AND WE ARE MUCH BETTER PEOPLE HAVING GONE THROUGH IT. WE ARE BETTER VERSIONS OF OURSELVES.Mindee Hernandez
His Journey Began
When Kooper Hernandez was five years old, his femur snapped in half. Not from a fall or sliding into third, but simply turning around from a closed door. Due to the mechanism of injury, his family thought he had dislocated his hip. When doctors discovered the fracture, it was much worse than previously thought, and the muscles had already begun working to reset the bone.
Doctors at Dell Children’s operated to put in multiple rods and pins, but, after 27 minutes, came out to tell his father—and pregnant mother—that he had osteosarcoma. The tumor had wrapped itself through so much of his bone, their only option was to amputate.
Osteosarcoma is cancer that occurs in a bone, typically in younger
children or those potentially growing fast or very tall.
Kooper’s dad, Jon, is 6’7”, but it was still very rare for Kooper to have developed the tumors at the age of five. The doctors recommended 10 weeks of chemo, then amputation, followed by 37 more weeks of chemo.
His mother Mindee says, “I was in shock. Telling me my child has cancer when I’m pregnant and have a baby at home; how will I be a good mother and take care of all these babies?”
A few months later, Kooper fell out of bed and re-broke his leg, which precipitated an early amputation and an assessment of how much of the cancer had been killed by his chemo treatments.
The Real Kooper
So that’s the serious part. The real story starts with the Kooper who healed so well, kicked his cancer, and went home from the hospital two weeks early. According to Mindee, not once did he have a frown on his face.
One of his first outings was the coin toss at Jarrell High School’s Kick Cancer football game. Meanwhile, Mindee and Jon had a perfect, healthy baby, and Kooper continued his journey of recovery with his second round of chemo and a new prosthetic leg. “He could have felt crummy, but he always had a smile on his face,” says Mindee. “When he saw a woman who had clearly just received a diagnosis, he did laps until he found her again, just to give her a hug.”
He finished his chemo in February 2016. Mindee says, “We wanted him to have the most normal childhood and do the things he wants to do. He played baseball before, but it wasn’t really his niche. Then, one day we were leaving the Scottish Rites from a growth adjustment to his leg, a woman came up and said, ‘You look like an athlete,’ and she let him try on her gold medal.”
That woman was Darlene Hunter, a Paralympian and the founder of the Lady Mavericks wheelchair basketball team. She connected the Hernandez family with the folks at the Hill Country Wheelers in Wimberly, TX. Kooper attended a clinic at Texas State University and… a star was born.
Now 10, Kooper practices with the Wheelers every Sunday. The league is for children with prosthetics and who are ambulatory. Kooper competes in the chair sports because his prosthetic cups his hip joint, which makes it challenging to run.
Jon says, “His first season was great, but his second was even better. It was an amazing feeling to qualify for the Junior Nationals team. Kooper competed individually and on teams in the shotput, discus, [nerf] javelin, the 100m, 200m, 400m, and was the second leg of the 800m men’s and mixed relay.” So far, he has medaled in every event; sporting three golds, 2 silver, and several bronze.
Mindee is pleased Kooper is not just learning the fundamentals of sports, but also sportsmanship, because all of the athletes have been through struggles. “I cry at every track meet because every kid is giving it their all. No one is a stranger, and no one is left behind; it’s truly a family. They all have a little piece of ‘Hey, I did this!’ and are all so happy even to come in last place.” Kooper says, “It’s nice to be in a group of people like me and we all understand each other.”
As you might expect, Kooper gets As and Bs in school, is a member of Student Council, loves Legos and Minecraft, and has many friendships among the USA Amputee Soccer Team, collegiate baseball teams, and a lot of golfers who play in his tournament to support other families in need. “We have some wonderful role models,” Mindee says, “So we created Super Kooper, Inc. to be a non-profit organization to raise money and donations for Kooper and other children fighting childhood cancer.”
Super Kooper, Inc. helps families in Central Texas going through cancer treatment. The funds help with anything from hospital bills to mortgage payments, and even to decorate hospital rooms for kids on an extended stay. Donations are accepted any time on their website (SuperKooper.org), or visit them on Facebook for upcoming events.