WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — When Austin Osner made a Christmas wish recently in Ohio, he had no idea it would come true nearly 800 miles away in Wichita.
Born without a right arm, Austin, 10, was having a tough time at school, said his mother, Kristin McGinn. When McGinn asked her son last month what he wanted for Christmas, Austin’s response surprised her, The Wichita Eagle reported.
“He told me he wanted some friends for Christmas,” McGinn said. “It wasn’t the answer that I might have expected.”
Thanks in part to a generous group of strangers in Kansas, the viral nature of social media and some luck, Austin, who lives near Cincinnati, was able to not only find some lasting friendships but also was fitted for a prosthetic right arm.
Steve Peeples of Peeples Prosthetics in Wichita and several members of his staff worked through the weekend to fit Austin with the arm. Austin, his sister Jordan, 9, and McGinn flew to Wichita on a plane supplied by LakePoint Aviation, which is owned by Matt Bell.
As one thing led to another, the family was able to attend the Kansas State-Colorado State men’s basketball game Saturday at Intrust Bank Arena – Austin’s first college basketball game – and were guests at The Inn at Tallgrass during their stay.
There was also a party Sunday in Austin’s honor at Stearman Bar and Grill before the family was scheduled to travel back to Ohio on Monday – all at no cost to McGinn.
The Wichita Fire Department even brought a ladder truck to Peeples Prosthetics on Saturday for Austin and Jordan to play around in. From meals to fuel for the plane rides, several Wichita business owners and community members pitched in to help.
“The people that we met this weekend already seem more like family,” Austin said Sunday. “It’s been so fun.
“I’m very thankful to everyone and very excited about my new prosthetic.”
Though it was never her intention for her son’s wish to be passed around on Facebook, McGinn told some friends about Austin’s hope in private messages. One person asked whether they could share Austin’s wish on the social media network, which eventually led to a Facebook page called “Austin’s Wish” and to Matt Amos getting wind of the situation.
Amos, a U.S. Marine veteran and bilateral leg amputee who works for Peeples, said he knew he needed to try to get something done for Austin.
“There was a post from a woman named Debbie Fields about Austin, and it somehow came up on my Facebook feed,” Amos said. “That’s kind of how it got started.
“It all happened really quickly. It just goes to show what type of support the people of this community can provide.”
Born with a birth defect called amniotic band syndrome, Austin’s right arm ends just below his elbow. While he participates in many activities and sports – jiu-jitsu and soccer are two of his favorites – McGinn said kids at Austin’s school haven’t always been kind about her son’s differences.
“Kids would call him the ‘one-armed man’ or walk up to him to look at his arm and run away screaming,” McGinn said.
“It had started to get to him at times this year.”
Amos said he didn’t know about the problems at school until after he had contacted Austin but that he’s happy to have helped in any way.
“Everybody needs friends and support,” Amos said. “If it’s not going to be his classmates, then it might as well be us.
“I do things differently than some because I don’t have calves and ankles, but there’s nothing that I’ve found that I can’t do. .It’s not about what you don’t have . it’s about what you have left and making the most of that.”
Once Peeples heard there might be something he could do for Austin, the rest started to come together.
Peeples’ friends Bell and Robby Cornejo of LakePoint said they would fly Austin and his family to Kansas, charging nothing for their time, fuel or use of the Cessna Skylane. Bell’s wife, Audra, was also instrumental in setting up the trip.
“You never know how something like this will go, but Austin has been nothing but super thankful and appreciative,” Peeples said. “He’s a neat kid.
“As soon as he got off the plane (Friday), he came up and introduced himself and told us how excited he was.”
For the first time, Austin said, he was able to pick up items using his right arm and new hand. Peeples said there will be limitations with the new prosthetic – adding that he will stay in touch with Austin and his family to work through any issues that come up – but that the new limb will likely make things better for his new young friend.
“This is going to be a process for him,” Peeples said. “He will have to get used to wearing a prosthesis and will need to develop his muscles.
“Eventually, I think he will advance into something with more range of motion and functionality for him. This is just the beginning.”
While working with Austin to find the right fit on Saturday morning at Peeples’ office on East Central, Austin had the first version of his new arm on when firefighters made a visit with their truck. Austin grabbed his jacket, giving his mother a glimpse of something she hadn’t seen before.
“I had never seen him in long sleeves without one being rolled up before,” McGinn said. “It looks just like he’s always had an arm.”
Jordan said she was happy her brother was able to be successfully fitted for the prosthethic and for the fact that the pair got to ride in a “small plane” for the first time. Austin, she said, even got to fly the plane during the trip.
“Wichita is pretty cool, plus we got to see the archery in St. Louis,” said Jordan, who was corrected by her mother about the St. Louis Arch landmark.
“I’m happy for Austin. He’s a pretty good brother, most of the time. He’s always there for me, and he helps me a lot with my homework,” Jordan said.
While getting the new prosthetic was important, McGinn said, she also noticed something else her son gained over the weekend.
“You can just see that he’s becoming the outgoing and happy kid that he is again,” McGinn said. “This school year has been hard on Austin.
“This weekend has all been overwhelming. Anytime people would reach out to me about different pieces of this, I would cry.”
McGinn said she plans to homeschool Austin when they return to Ohio instead of going back to the school where the bullying occurred.
“You look at all the tragedies in the world, but then there’s all these good people who have done all of this for me and my family, people they don’t even know.”
Austin said it’s a weekend he will never forget.
“I love my new prosthetic,” he said. “I’m learning how to adapt to it.
“One thing I’ve learned this weekend is to not give up and to live life to the fullest.”
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