Profile: Mind over Matter: Wilsonville Elementary student Patton Hunt didn’t know if he’d walk again; now, he serves as an inspiration

Published 9:14 am Tuesday, March 14, 2023

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Written by Noah Wortham

One day after an intensive surgery on the back of his legs that was supposed to put him in a wheelchair and prevent him from being able to put weight on his legs, he stood and took steps.

A 9-year-old Wilsonville Elementary School student, Patton Hunt fought through the pain and became an immediate inspiration to his family and the community.

Still battling health concerns on a daily basis and recently out of surgery, Patton’s fight is ongoing, but one he will continue to stand for.

Tough challenges

Leigh Hunt is seven months pregnant and out driving when a woman runs a stop sign and crashes into her, causing Leigh’s stomach to hit the steering wheel.

“He was born that day,” Leigh said. “He was in the NICU for a little over six weeks. It was kind of chaotic. We were not expecting him to be there that soon. We had some scary moments while he was in there with him being so little and having some of the issues of being born early and the injuries.”

Although he was still in the NICU, they proceeded to begin therapy with Patton until he was able to go home.

“When we came home from the hospital, ARC of Shelby County would come to our house and they would do therapy with him,” Leigh said. “At the beginning, it was just stuff like him being able to hold his head up. Then we started going to Life Without Limits Clinic, and he learned to walk there.”

Patton was almost two years old when he started walking on his own.

As a result of the car accident, Patton continues to suffer from both hydrocephalus and cerebral palsy.

“Patton has hydrocephalus, which means that his fluid in his brain doesn’t drain like everybody’s else does,” Leigh said. “He has a shunt that— it’s basically a little drain and a valve that allows fluid to drain off of him and off his brain so that his body can reabsorb it. Without that he literally wouldn’t be alive, it would cause too much brain pressure.”

Patton has undergone more than 20 surgeries despite being only 9 years old.

“We were told when he was a baby that he wouldn’t walk. Then we were told, ‘Well, he may walk with crutches.’ But he does gymnastics, he swims, he’s an awesome kid,” Leigh said while laughing.

Alongside the shunt, Patton also has to wear braces to assist him in walking.

Eventually he had to have a gastrocnemius recession performed to loosen up the leg muscles on the back of his legs.

“It’s a pretty intense surgery, and he came home in casts and leg immobilizers,” Leigh said. “He wasn’t supposed to be able to stand, to bear weight on either leg. He was supposed to be in a wheelchair for a while. As soon as he got home that day, after surgery, he was just bound and determined he was going to walk. And so, he did, it hurt, but he was already walking that first day which was pretty incredible. That’s the determined spirit that he has.”

Despite these issues, Patton has strived to do the things he enjoys with the full support of his parents.

“We’ve always tried to push Patton to do more than he thinks that he can do, and then he always kind of surprises us with all that he is able to do,” Leigh said.

Striving to be a normal kid

Despite his struggles, Patton continues to be an active child on the family farm.

“My favorite hobbies and things to do are like dig holes, ride horses, help on the farm and feed animals,” Patton said. “I like to work out, and I can run a mile and stuff.”

He enjoys learning about “how things work and what things are called.” His favorite classes at school are science and PE.

“He’s a very unique kid,” Leigh said. “He’s very inquisitive, which I guess a lot of kids are, but I think he’s a deep thinker. He’s all the time asking me questions about stuff. He likes to figure things out. He loves to work and to earn money and save money for things.”

Patton stands out in the crowd, not just for what he’s overcome, but for who he is.

Patton’s talents are also observed by his teachers and peers at Wilsonville Elementary School. Patton, and one other child, were chosen as the Fourth Grade Good Citizen for the month of October.

An organization in Chelsea named Bikes 4 Kids creates custom bicycles tailor made to the wishes of kids. Charlie Bradford, the owner of the organization, made a custom bike for Patton.

“The goal was to build something that looked more custom and normal to other bikes, so when he rode with his cousin he would have a bike,” Bradford said. “But with his disability it was hard to balance a bike. We had to build something with custom training wheels.”

When Bradford met with him to get an idea of the type of bike he wanted, Patton introduced himself.

“‘My name is Patton,’ and he shook my hand like a grown man with a cowboy hat on and he knew exactly what he wanted,” Bradford said. “He said, ‘Before we get started, I want to make sure you know what I want.’”

Patton then told Bradford that he only wanted two colors on his bike—tan and army green—and after the bike was put together, they presented it to him.

“It looked really good,” Bradford said. “He loves it, was crazy about it. And after that, he got the bike and he rides the wheels off of it.”

After making a custom bike for Patton, Bradford chose Patton to be the Grand Marshall for Chelsea’s first Bikes 4 Kids rodeo.

“Me, Patton and his family had become pretty close after that,” Bradford said. “I decided Patton would be a great Grand Marshall. Because he loves rodeos. He’s a cowboy, a farm boy. And when I told him, that boy was as excited as he can be, he could just not wait. The days were too long.”

Patton attended the rodeo as the Grand Marshall and did his job in riling up the crowds.

“Patton’s a really good kid,” Bradford said. “He’s very smart for his age and he knows how to talk to people respectfully. He’s very talented in that area, to be honest, he’s above his level.” 

An ongoing battle

On Monday, Nov. 7, Patton came home from school due to a headache and lethargy. He then began to throw up. His parents took him to the hospital, and he had to get the shunt in his brain replaced.

“We went to the hospital and they operated and put in a new shunt, but he had some bleeding in his brain when they did that,” Leigh said. “Normally, when he has the shunt surgery, he just gets better afterwards, it’s immediate relief. But he didn’t have that. He was still hurting really bad after the first surgery. They went in to do another revision to check what was going on, and what happened is there was some bleeding with the first surgery that had blocked the catheter that allows fluid to drain off his brain. So, they put in another new shunt.”

Patton has had 17 brain surgeries in the last nine years, and yet, he keeps going and continues to do the things that he loves.

“If I could give advice to a parent whose child was faced with some challenges, especially early on because Patton’s conditions were from birth, is that God can do amazing things,” Leigh said. “He can do more than we think sometimes, and I always say that if I would have been able to see the whole picture, all the 20 plus surgeries that Patton would have to have, the thousands of hours of therapy, all those sorts of things.

“If I could have seen it all at once I would have said I wasn’t equipped to do that, but God only shows you one moment at a time. So, we can’t live in the future. We can’t live in the past. We can only live in the present moment. And so, we take each moment that we’re given and we do the very best that we can with that moment.”

Despite his struggles, Patton has large ambitions.

“I’m going to Troy to study nursing, and then I’m going to UAB to become a pediatric neurosurgeon,” Patton said. “I want to work at Children’s. The reason is because I’ll know the feelings of the kids that have the same problems.”

His parents are there to help him every step along the way and encourage him to keep going.

“We’ve never set any sort of limitations with him, we’ve always I feel like tried to give him every opportunity that there was and to encourage him to always do his best with everything.”

Patton doesn’t just have high ambitions, he also carries with him an optimistic worldview.

“There’s some tough times, but God really has blessed us with the good times,” Patton said. “We have a hospital to go to when there is bad stuff. The hospital’s not fun but it is a place to go to, and just when there’s a million things to be sad about, there’s always one thing to be happy about.”