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Eight-year-old Jackson DeLude did not come to Orlando from Buffalo, N.Y., to hand out food to homeless people, although that’s what he did.
The outgoing, bubbly DeLude was so inspired by the gift he received from two Orlando area NFL players, he also wanted to give back to those who are less fortunate.
Born without fully developed legs and hands, DeLude was in Orlando last week to be fitted for prosthetic legs. All he wanted for Christmas was to be able to run like other boys. Orlando area natives and Buffalo Bills teammates Gabriel Davis, of Sanford Seminole High, and Matt Milano, of Dr. Phillips High, decided to provide DeLude with a set of state-of-the-art prosthetic legs and a trip to Disney World to try them out.
“Words cannot explain how happy we got to come down here,” said DeLude, who came to Orlando with his mother Ashley.
It took DeLude all of about two minutes to get accustomed to his new prosthetics and he was off and running. He spent six hours at Disney World one day last week and he was amazed by how his new legs felt.
“They feel great compared to my other set I had, because when I would try to run in those, I just kept falling,” DeLude said. “But now, in these [new prosthetics,3/8 I can get up and go.
“These new blades actually feel like part of me.”
Davis is a rookie receiver who was a prolific pass catcher at UCF before leaving school after his junior season.
“I was working with my therapy guy ... at Prosthetics and Orthotics Associates in Orlando, and I was doing therapy and working out around a lot of amputees and people with prosthetics, and it just gave me a whole new view on life,” Davis said. “I knew that one day when I was fortunate enough to be able to help someone with that, I wanted to.
“With Jackson not having the legs he needed, I wanted to make sure me and Matt could get him those as soon as possible.”
Milano is a fourth-year linebacker who was drafted by the Bills out of Boston College.
“We only learned about it a few weeks ago, so it all happened pretty quick,” Milano said. “Everything just matched up perfectly and we were definitely eager to help him out, and also it was around the holidays, so it was something to give back to the community of Buffalo.
“And then for Jackson, it was kind of a life-changing event for him. I thought it was an amazing opportunity to help him out.”
DeLude was so touched by Davis and Milano providing his new blades, he also wanted to do something charitable.
He talked his mother into purchasing 10 Chick-fil-A sandwiches and went about distributing them to homeless people in downtown Orlando.
“He said, ‘I’m going to help people, too,’ " Ashley said. “He would say ‘Merry Christmas,’ and hand them a sandwich. A few of the guys actually cried.”
Davis and Milano first were approached about helping DeLude by Bert Whigham, an Orlando area trainer who works with both players and knew of Davis desire to help amputees.
Whigham learned of DeLude’s Christmas wish from the 50 Legs, a charitable organization that provides amputees with prosthetics, and reached out to Davis and Milano to help.
“I got a call from Bert and he said Gabe and Matt want to fly you and Jackson out to Florida, and they are going to buy him blades,” Ashley said. “I was shocked … I had no words. Just thinking of how young they are and already thinking of paying it forward. It’s incredible.”
Davis and Milano covered the cost of the blades for life, the plane tickets from Buffalo, the hotel stay and a VIP tour of Walt Disney World.
“It’s incredible,” Ashley said. “It’s a huge relief just to know that even when he’s grown up and doesn’t need me anymore, he’ll be fine. … This is going to do amazing things for him.”
Jackson was born with a rare disorder called tibial aplasia-ectrodactyly syndrome, which is found in one in every 1 million people. He was born without hands and only two fingers protruding from each arm. In his lower limbs, Jackson was born with only a fibula, one of two lower leg bones. He had no tibia and was also missing bones in his feet.
Just before his first birthday, Ashley and Jake DeLude decided to have their son’s lower legs amputated above the knees. To walk, he would need prosthetic legs, but the prosthetic attachment to the femur — the thigh bone — would be much easier without the lower, underdeveloped portions of his legs missing bones.
“He has a liner that goes over top of his thigh and once that liner is on, he puts the prosthetic on and then there’s another liner that adheres to the other liner to help hold it on,” Ashley said.
None of his misfortune has ever slowed Jackson, even though he’s heard taunts such as “freak” or “robot” from strangers.
“A lot of attention is drawn to his hands, like, ‘He looks like a lobster. That’s disgusting.’ Kids just say things,” Ashley said.
His new blades give Jackson a fresh air of confidence. All week long, since returning to Buffalo, Jackson has worn his new blades, not wanting to put the old ones back on.
“He’ll still need to wear the old ones a little bit because he has to be more slow and controlled in those,” Ashley said. “But since we got back, he’s been playing outside and running around and skipping.”
Some of his classmates used to tell him he couldn’t do certain things, but when they all saw the new blades, they were as excited as Jackson and supportive.
“He’s not in school right now because we’re doing virtual, so he had virtual gym class,” Ashley said. “The kids were like, ‘Jackson we saw you on TV, let’s see your blades.’ And he would back up and let them see, and they’d say, ‘Oh that’s so cool.’
“He was doing all the gym exercises, and everybody was picking him to be on their team and they kept winning because he was doing all the exercises properly and fast. … He was so excited to be able to participate again. He can’t wait to get back in school and show everyone for real.”
Jackson added, “I was super excited and I just didn’t have words to explain how excited I was.”
His new blades make it easier for him to run around.
“These are way more flexible,” Jackson said. “Words cannot explain what this means to me. It means so much. Just trying to run in [the old ones] was so hard, but these are so much easier. They feel like part of me.”
“Jackson said these blades were like walking on a cloud,” Ashley said.
Davis and Milano said they loved getting the chance to help Jackson.
“It’s the best and it shows you how small the world is,” Davis said. “The fact that I was able to bless a kid from Buffalo and be able to send him down to my area in Orlando to get some work done, to be able to get some great blades to run on … it’s just the best.
“To be able to change a kid’s life like this is awesome.”
And Jackson said he is thrilled to have two Bills players supporting him.
“He talked to them for the first time last night. It was amazing,” Ashley said of a Zoom call this past Monday.
Jackson told the players, “It’s all because of you guys.”
“He was so thankful, and he was like, ‘Disney was the best place to first test out my new blades,’ " Davis said. “He said he loved them.”
The gift reinforced Jackson’s belief he can do anything.
“Everybody just tells me that I can’t do things sometimes and that makes me upset,” Jackson said. “So I’m gonna show them that I can do it.”
Davis’ former UCF teammate Shaquem Griffin, who became the first one-handed player selected in the NFL draft, taught him long ago missing limbs shouldn’t stop a person from chasing their dreams.
“Shaquem was one of the hardest working and one of the best people I have ever met,” Davis said of the current Seahawks linebacker. “He wanted to be treated no different and was no different. I want Jackson to know to know the same thing. He’s not going to be any different than anyone else, and he should be treated just exactly the same.”