This time last year, Wisconsin teen Charlie Burton was recovering from an eight-hour surgery and dealing with the realization that a major bone in his arm had been replaced by a bone...from a cadaver!
This year, he'll be cheering from the stands of the Georgia Dome in Atlanta at the NCAA Tournament championship game. It's a trip of a lifetime for the 16-year-old from Wisconsin, who's spent the past two years dealing with cancer, chemo, MRI's and uncertainty.
In December 2011, Charlie was playing basketball for his Wisconsin high school team when he started having back pain. Doctors suspected everything from an infection to a small break, but after rounds of tests, antibiotics and physical therapy, Charlie and his family faced a scary conclusion.
It was cancer -- Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare but aggressive bone cancer found mostly in children.
While the then-14-year-old was upset, his dad, Mike, was blown away by his courage.
“You always hear about kids looking at the bright side, kind of the short-run approach,” Mike said. “But it never fails to amaze me how amazing his attitude was.”
Charlie spent nearly a year in treatment. He had more than 36 weeks of chemotherapy, spending days at a time in the hospital. He had to get antibiotics at home every eight hours through a central line in his chest. And to top it all off, he will now spend the rest of his life with a stranger's arm bone -- something he says is actually not that bad.
“It was weird to think I have some dead person’s bone in my arm,” Charlie says. “But it’s kind of amazing also. I feel pretty normal.”
This year, springtime has been a little more fun -- and thankfully has not involved invasive surgery. The Make-A-Wish foundation sent Charlie, his dad and two of his cousins to the Final Four in Atlanta. He spent the weekend exploring the city and enjoying the final four games. Tonight, he'll be cheering for the Michigan Wolverines in the championship game.
Though his team, the Kansas Jayhawks, said goodbye to the tournament after the Sweet 16, Charlie is still geared up for the experience.
“I really like college basketball,” Charlie says of why he chose the trip as his wish. “Some people ask to go to Disney World, but I felt like that’s something we could do on our own. Final Four tickets are really hard to get.”
Charlie finished chemo in September, and his family remains hopeful about his recovery. His latest scan in January looked good. He has a second scan scheduled for right after the tournament, then he'll get regular scans for the next three years.
Now 16, Charlie can still shoot a basketball, but he’s focusing his energy on a new sport -- golf.
“Although you have to practice to stay on your game, in golf it’s more just a lot of repetition,” he says. “It’s a good way to take your mind off things.”