April 27, 2022
Elijah Schultz is a son, a brother, a friend, a student, a leader, an athlete, an artist…Eli is exceptional.
The Right Family
He was born to a tribal community in Ghana, Africa, a beautiful baby boy with amniotic banding syndrome affecting all four of his limbs. Amniotic banding syndrome happens when fibrous bands of the amniotic sac get tangled around a developing fetus. Acting like rubber bands, they tighten around a growing fetus’ extremities, constricting growth. In Eli’s case, this condition resulted in a congenital amputation of his left leg, webbed toes on the right foot, and syndactyly (fused and webbed fingers) on both hands.
He was adopted by Shannon and Tobin Schultz at 13-months-old and has been a Joplin, Missouri resident since. “Elijah has always been full of energy, life and a competitive spirit,” his parents shared. His father shared the first time the pair met; he was greeted with a punch from baby Eli followed by a laugh. Upon their first exchange, the Schultz’s knew they were adding a special boy to their family.
The Congenital Hand Doctor
When Eli was two, he met Charles Goldfarb, MD, for the first time for a finger-separation surgery that gained Eli a partial index finger and allowed him to thrive using his left hand. He became the starting quarterback for his champion football team, a top pitcher and hitter for his baseball team, a student with excellent penmanship, the fastest typer in his class, and a talented artist. “He was so highly functioning with both hands, there wasn’t an imminent need for right-hand surgery,” Tobin explained.
However, in early 2022, Eli started experiencing pain in his right hand and his parents asked their pediatrician for a referral to the best hand specialist in the country; they were reconnected with Dr. Goldfarb at Washington University Orthopedics in St. Louis. During a 3.5-hour surgery at St. Louis Children's Hospital in February, Dr. Goldfarb separated Eli’s three interior fingers on his right hand, reconstructed his index and ring fingers, applied skin grafts, and improved the dexterity of his pinky.
The night of Eli’s outpatient surgery, his parents received an unexpected phone call. At 9 p.m. Dr. Goldfarb was calling to check on Eli’s recovery. “I have never had a surgeon call me at home outside of business hours to check on his patient. We greatly appreciate the attention and care Elijah has received and we are thrilled with our experience with WashU Ortho,” Shannon shared. “Eli is an exceptional patient and Dr. Goldfarb is an exceptional doctor,” Tobin echoed.
The Leader We All Need
Eli was back in school days after his surgery, staying on top of his studies and maintaining sports training in any way that didn’t interfere with the healing of his right hand. His classmates surely would have missed him had he been out more than two days. This year, his class was missing out on recess on Friday’s, which upset many of the 9- and 10-year-olds. Eli did some research and discovered it is actually Missouri State law that elementary students have at least 20 minutes of recess every day. He put together a presentation for his teacher, PE department, principal and superintendent…and his class now enjoys recess daily.
From Three Fingers to Nine
"Eli’s surgeries focused on providing more function for his many, remarkable needs - from schoolwork to the football field. We helped form his index finger on the left and created functional, independent fingers with the most recent surgery on the right. I look forward to watching his overall progress after surgery and his continued athletic and classroom successes," shared Dr. Goldfarb.
Eli is hopeful his continued athletic success can include the highest fielding percentage on his baseball team. As a current pitcher, he has aspirations of being a first-baseman. In the past, several occupational therapists worked on finger extensions for his baseball glove to help him close it, but they weren't effective. Eli became better at adapting and flipping his wrist each catch to compensate for the way standard baseball gloves were not user friendly for him. Dr. Goldfarb suggested a custom glove; the Schultz family hadn't considered it before, but is eager to pursue the possibility. "While Elijah has always done a great job adapting and overcoming, a custom glove would give him the ability to make even more exceptional catches. A custom glove would also take additional stress off his wrist which he over-uses compared to other ball players," Tobin shared.
Differently-abled is Not Dis-abled
Eli is already writing with the recently-reconstructed right hand, in addition to amply using his left hand. His father shared hope for other parents, “There is no playbook for parents of children with limb differences, but I want them to know you can find the best in the world and there are doctors out there who can help your children reach their goals.” Shannon added, “Dr. Goldfarb's expertise in redefining function in the lives of children with limb differences is incredible. His vision of what could be, and ultimately the execution of that vision, has changed Elijah's life in ways we never could have imagined.”
Eli shared his gratitude to Dr. Goldfarb as well, “Thank you for helping me throw touchdown passes, make one-handed interceptions, and pitch strike-outs!”
“Thanks to the work of Dr. Goldfarb, the entire hand team at St. Louis Children's Hospital, Eli has been able to play able-bodied sports using his left hand. His ability to throw, catch, grasp, and lift weights is thanks to the great work done on his hands. He has earned many unique opportunities through sports,” his mother shared, “Including being noticed for his abilities and skills rather than his differences.”
To schedule an appointment with a pediatric and adolescent orthopedic specialist, call (314) 514-3500 or request an appointment online.
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