Disabled student steps up in front of his classmates

Walk to remember

Like many Stevens Creek Elementary School fifth-graders, Cole Wooten walked across the stage Tuesday during the school's Honors Day.

Those steps marked more than the end of elementary school for the 11-year-old.

They were some of his first steps.

"I wasn't expecting the reaction that I felt," Cole's mother, Pam Wooten, said. "I wasn't expecting it to be quite that overwhelming."

Cole crossed the stage, with the help of a walker, to a standing ovation and applause from his fellow fifth-graders, teachers and administrators.

Even his attendance for the last two weeks of school is surprising considering Cole underwent surgery March 4 to amputate his feet at Shriners Hospital for Children in Greenville, S.C.

Ironically, the surgery gave Cole the chance to walk.

At birth, Cole was diagnosed with epidermolysis bullosa, a rare disorder that causes his fragile skin to slough off and blister. He bruises and injures easily but gets around by riding in his wheelchair or scooting around on his knees.

The surgery to remove his feet, disfigured by the disease, allowed him to be fitted for prosthetics. He received them Saturday and wore them only once before his Honors Day public debut.

"(It was) surprising," Cole said, adding that he wanted to make the walk on his new prosthetic feet, but wasn't sure if he could. "I still have to use a walker and (wheel)chair. But I can stand up. I can't walk."

But he plans to keep practicing to get proficient at standing upright and walking with the prosthetics.

"It is unusual," Cole said of being able to stand up, be taller and see the world from a different perspective.

Before his surgery, Cole, an outgoing and popular student, visited other classes, explaining his surgery and answering questions. Expected to be in the hospital for two weeks, Cole went home two days after the surgery.

Wooten said Cole wanted to abandon the Homebound program to attend the last two weeks of school and participate in the end-of-the-year activities.

Wooten said the moment was especially sweet because doctors said newborn Cole would likely never leave the hospital.

"We've waited 11 years and to see him walk like that. It was overwhelming," said Wooten, who forgot to take a single photo. "He is truly a gift."

Cole's accomplishment was shared by the Stevens Creek faculty and staff, who have known him since he started pre-K at the school.

"It was just about the best gift I have ever been given," Principal Michelle Paschal said. "We see a lot of growth in students as they change and mature. But to see him be able to experience that was really beyond words."

Paschal said Cole has always had "a bright spirit about him," and is rarely without a smile.

But the outgoing boy is a determined one, his mother said.

Cole does what he wants, despite his limitations. He takes hip-hop dance at Center Stage, which his mother owns. He plays wheelchair basketball and just started wheelchair tennis.

"I'm going to try to train for the Paralympics," Cole said. "I'm going to try out track."

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