Ethan Earl remains determined

2013-01-26T23:00:00Z Ethan Earl remains determinedBy JESSICA HOLDMAN | Bismarck Tribune Bismarck Tribune

An “SK” was “tattooed” on 12-year-old Ethan Earl’s leg to help him remember one of his heroes, Sgt. Steve Kenner.

Ethan, named an honorary peace officer in 2007, has wanted to be a police officer since he was young and he hasn’t let bone cancer stand in his way.

It started with pain in Ethan’s right knee and leg in April 2006. His problems were originally diagnosed as growing pains and the onset of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. X-rays later showed he had advanced bone cancer.

At age 6, Ethan underwent chemotherapy and a partial amputation called rotationplasty. Only 53 such surgeries had been done in the U.S. at that point.

A portion of Ethan’s femur was removed 2 inches below the hip to just under the knee. His lower leg was then turned around and reattached at the femur, leaving his foot on backward, acting as his knee joint.

“A lot of people are rude to him,” said his mother, Glenda Earl. “I’ve been told I’m a terrible mother for not fixing this birth defect ... Kids, they don’t even think a thing of it. It’s mostly adults.”

A prosthesis fits just over Ethan’s foot so he can walk.

“I don’t know how you do this every day by yourself,” Glenda Earl said as she struggled to get her son’s shoe back on.

Now a sixth-grader at Underwood Public School, Ethan said he still wants to be a police officer like Kenner and would like to be in the K-9 unit.

In 2007, Kenner helped plan a Capitol ceremony, station tours and a ride in a police car for the aspiring officer. In 2011, when Kenner was killed in the line of duty, Ethan attended the funeral.

Ethan is still an honorary member of the local Fraternal Order of Police lodge and has attended several meetings with his father, Glenn Earl, a retired naval aviator who now works at North American Coal Corporation’s Falkirk Mine in Underwood.

Lodge president John Brocker said the group likes seeing Ethan and wishes he could come to visit more. He said it would be great if Ethan could participate in the lodge’s annual Cops & Kids shopping trip.

“I think he’d be a real inspiration to those kids,” Brocker said.

Ethan plays baseball, his favorite sport, and basketball, although he can’t run quite as fast as the others.

“Mom, remember that time Ty hit that home run and I was like ‘Yeah!’” he said, throwing his hands in the air and pretending to run the bases.

Football is not on Ethan’s to-do list, though.

“I tried kicking a ball once and my leg flew off,” he said.

Ethan is now on his fifth prosthetic leg. He has to be refitted every year because his foot still grows and needs more room inside the prosthesis.

Glenda Earl said her family was turned down by their insurance provider because the company routinely covers new prosthetic legs every five years. Each new leg costs $16,000.

“We’ve had our battles,” she said. “They don’t realize the foot is still growing. It would be like trying to wear the same shoe for five years.”

Ethan’s leg is special to him every year. Beyond just allowing him to walk, it’s personalized for him. Since last year, tattoo artist Kirk Peterson, who owns Bassackward Studios in Dickinson, has painted Ethan’s leg for him.

This year, Ethan’s leg features Rigby, his favorite character from Cartoon Network’s “The Regular Show.” The show features a bluejay named Mordecai and a raccoon named Rigby, both employed as groundskeepers at a park.

“He told me, ‘Mom it’s a good show, you should watch it,’ ” Glenda Earl said.

When officials at the Cartoon Network found out, they sent a box full of toys, clothes and a photo signed by the cartoon’s writer.

“He was so impressed, he said, ‘Mom, we have to call people and tell them what they did,’” Glenda Earl said.

Ethan still has three quarter-sized cancerous nodules in his lungs. It is common with his type of cancer. Glenda Earl said he can’t have radiation because it causes that type of cancer to grow. Doctors monitor the nodules, though, and they have not grown or become any more dense.

The nodules have caused Ethan to lose 80 percent of his high-pitch hearing and more than half of his short-term memory, Glenda Earl said.

“So, we struggle with that in school. For two years, he didn’t know any of his teachers’ names,” she said.

Glenda Earl said Ethan is still the same size as everyone in his class and he has adapted well.

Ethan used to tell his mother, “Oh, Mom, it’s my lucky day,” when he woke up in the mornings. Glenda Earl said he doesn’t do that anymore, but “he knows how lucky he is.”

Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261or

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