3-legged dog gives Utah boy courage to deal with rare genetic disorder

Sep 28, 2022, 12:38 PM | Updated: 1:30 pm

At just 14 years old, Travis Carpenter sometimes needs a little nudge when making difficult decisions.

“I like racing because it’s full of action and never runs out of it,” Travis said.

Up here on the deck, he’s actually the “crew chief in-training,” communicating critical information to the driver. He decides on speed. He decides on risk.

“The dangerous part is a lot of the excitement,” Travis said. And he decides on strategy.

He said he’s been into that “probably my entire life so far.”

But the biggest decision this kid has ever made has nothing to do with racing, nothing to do with cars; it was a decision that’s got everything to do with the one thing missing in his life.

“It’s been really hard, it’s really hard,” Travis’ mother, Kelly Carpenter said. “I don’t even know how I would handle it. How am I to teach my kid how to handle this? I mean, he’s my son.”

It was just a short while ago her son had two functioning legs. But one of those legs was not working as well as the other.

“So, Travis has neurofibromatosis,” Kelly Carpenter said. “It’s a genetic condition affecting one in 3,000, and it causes tumors to form on nerves anywhere throughout the body.”

For Travis, the nerves affected were located on his left leg. An MRI that was taken not too long ago shows multiple white spots. Just about every spot on that photo is a tumor.

“There’s a whole bunch on one side that’s not on the other,” Kelly Carpenter said. “I’m pretty sure it’s not supposed to be there.”

“I mean it, there was literally almost no muscle in his thigh; his whole thigh was comprised of this, this tumor,” Dr. Kevin Jones, orthopedic surgeon with Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah. “He just had such weakness in the bone that it just kind of gave up.”

Travis broke his leg once. He broke it twice. After break number three, Jones said, “We fixed his bone with a rod.” Travis’ leg was so consumed by tumors, the bone stopped growing, the muscle got weaker, and life-altering decisions had to be made.

“Travis, this is not working well for you, and if at some point in the future you want to talk to me about other options, I am happy to talk about that, but it’s going to be on your terms,” Jones said.

As Travis was left to think about those other options, the family invested in a little, well, let’s just call it puppy therapy. Along came Lady — an Entlebucher Mountain Dog that’s part brown, part black, part white, and all puppy.

“It was a really good bright spot for all of us in this really, like, ‘Oh man, you know, this stinks, Travis broke his leg, but it was this really fun bright spot,’ ” Kelly Carpenter said.

Alright, now a couple things you should know about this boy and his “really fun bright spot.” Travis likes to high five. Lady likes to high four. And the best part is — Lady is doing every little bit of it minus her one front leg.

“She has a deformed limb, front paw,” Kelly Carpenter said. “They think it was just something that happened in the womb, trapped in amniotic bands.”

In the dog world, Lady is lovingly referred to as a tri-pod. She probably doesn’t know the nudge she was giving to Travis.

“When I saw her get around it really well, I’m like, maybe I should do that so I can get around better than I am right now,” Travis said.

So, on April 29, 2021, Travis had his left leg surgically removed. It was difficult. It was emotional.

“Mentally, it’s still tough, and you just, you still just cry,” Kelly Carpenter said. What he lost that day is not easy to put into words.

“It was a very difficult decision because you can never get your leg back if you get rid of it,” Travis said. But despite that reality, Travis will be the first to tell you the trade-off was an entirely new life. He began doing things; he began experiencing things.

“Yeah, I’m a pretty good driver,” he said. He began pushing towards a future in things he never thought possible.

“And I just wanted to get rid of it so I go out and have fun, go push harder than I ever have before,” Travis said. And pushing right beside him is his three-legged dog.

“She seems to know, like, yeah, he’s a little different; I’m a little different,” Kelly Carpenter said. Travis and those around him will tell you, even without Lady, he eventually would have made the decision to amputate.

“He just needed a little judge; he didn’t need a big nudge,” Jones said. Sometimes in life, when making difficult decisions, every single one of us needs a little nudge.

“We all need something to sort of give us that, that taste of courage to say, ‘I can do this.’ And Travis found that in his puppy,” Jones said.

“I think it’s really cool to have a dog that’s just like me,” Travis said.

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3-legged dog gives Utah boy courage to deal with rare genetic disorder