SPARTA, Mich.– Strapping on his Velcro Sketchers may seem routine, but for Aaron Van Kampen from Sparta just about everything that has to do with walking is a huge deal. That’s because it wasn’t always a possibility.
Five years ago, Fox 17 was introduced to the then six-year-old boy during one of his many therapy sessions at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital. He was just a little guy, but proudly showed off how he could slowly make it across the room using a walker.
“When I first started it was really hard to do,” said Aaron Van Kampen.
Aaron, a twin, had complications at an early age. When he was one, doctors diagnosed him with cerebral palsy or brain injury that impacted his muscle tone and ability to walk.
“Even putting on his socks seemed impossible,” remembers Heather Van Kampen, Aaron’s mother.
In 2007, Aaron became a candidate for a breakthrough spinal surgery coming to West Michigan for the first time. His parents took up the offer and the surgery was performed by Stanley Skarli, M.D. at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. It was a success.
“You see handicap children who don’t get to go out or ride a bike and we were thinking that could have been Aaron if we wouldn’t have taken the chance on the surgery,” said Heather Van Kampen.
It wasn’t all easy. Besides major surgery, Aaron had years of long therapy sessions, but he kept making slow strides.
“Back then we thought he was doing great and to see him today, it is like a different kid,” said Dan Van Kampen about his son.
At 11, Aaron is growing fast and walking all on his own.
In December, he was able to walk the entire family Disney vacation and even keep up with his twin sister and cousins. Something his parents didn’t know would ever happen.
“He walked all three parks by himself, he did not need a stroller, he didn’t need a walker, he did not need a wheelchair,” said Heather Van Kampen.
Aaron, who is outgoing and always smiling, was pretty proud of the whole thing.
“I just thought to myself, wow, I walked that whole way,” said Aaron Van Kampen.
Although Aaron’s gate isn’t perfect, he has been able to ride a bike, jump around on a trampoline with his friends, and just be a kid.
His parents say he inspires them.
“He’s taught me you never give up. They have that saying you have lemons, you make lemonade, well he’s made a lot of lemonade in his life,” said Heather Van Kampen.
The one thing that hasn’t changed about Aaron Van Kampen? His smile.
“I’m just a happy kid,” said Aaron.