MUSCATINE – Devin Martz is meeting his personal goals of walking independently, using his skateboard and scooter, and running.
The 11-year-old who lost part of his leg last year to osteosarcoma, a bone cancer that strikes about 400 children and teens in the United States every year, even mastered the many steps to get to the top of the Lost Soul Falls waterslide during a recent visit to Waterloo’s Lost Island waterpark.
“Five times,” said Devin’s mother, Lindsay. “And he didn’t complain once.”
Still, Devin’s prosthetic device is not conducive to riding a bike.
But, thanks to a special prosthetic device being developed by Conor Bryant, a senior biomedical engineering student at the University of Iowa, Devin will be able to ride a bike as the honoree for this year’s Courage Ride, an annual bike ride that raises funds for awareness and research into bone sarcomas.
The ride, with a number of paved and gravel routes to suit bicyclists of any range of experience, will be Saturday, Aug. 19, at the Iowa Mennonite School in Kalona, Iowa.
Bryant, a 2013 graduate of Pleasant Valley High School in Bettendorf, became involved with the Courage Ride after losing two college friends, Nik Jiruska and Jay Burger, to cancer in 2016.
Courage Ride officials made Bryant aware of Devin Martz’s situation. In a still somewhat rare procedure called rotationplasty, the middle portion of Devin’s leg with the tumor was removed in September of last year, and his foot and ankle, rotated 180 degrees, was reattached to serve as his new knee joint.
Devin received a prosthetic leg last December and has worked hard to reintroduce activities into his life like skateboarding and riding his scooter. But the device is specifically designed for walking and does not accommodate the range of motion necessary to ride a bike, Bryant said.
So Bryant set out to build a prosthetic device that would help mimic the rotation of a real leg and feel more natural to Devin. The two-piece device includes a pedal that attaches to the bike and a second component, carbon fiber tubing that serves as a shin bone, which can be quickly slid off the pedal, Bryant said.
There are prosthetic devices for professional and competitive bicyclists, Bryant said, but they are permanently attached to the bike. That would not be practical or safe for a youngster who might find the need to get off his bicycle quickly.
Bryant designed the pedal portion of the prosthetic on a computer and 3-D printed it. Some of the funding for his project came from a GoFundMe account he set up.
“I’m going to keep improving it and making it better and better over time,” Bryant said, noting he is grateful for the research opportunities and funding available at the University of Iowa.
Tammy Smith, sarcoma research coordinator at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, said the Courage Ride has donated more than $300,000 for the hospital’s sarcoma research program, supporting 18 research projects and the creation of the only sarcoma tissue bank in the Midwest.
Approximately 15,000 adults and children are diagnosed with bone and soft tissue sarcoma in the United States annually, accounting for 1 percent of all cancers, Smith said.
“These funds have been invaluable,” she said.
Devin, who will be a sixth-grader at Central Middle School, said he is excited to know he will be the first to use the prosthetic device that Bryant has developed, and that his experience will help other children in the future.
“I’m the first generation,” Devin said proudly during an interview at his home. He also said he wants to be a “prosthetic engineer” when he grows up.
He will be using the new prosthetic device on a new bike. Two Iowa City bike shops, Geoff’s Bike & Ski and World of Bikes, are donating new bikes for Devin and his younger brother, Daine.
Devin’s dad, Jeff, hopes that his son’s experience will prompt people to support the Courage Ride.
“It will give kids in the fight a little better hope,” he said.