Last month, 2-year-old Roman Dinkel of Overland Park got a pair of shiny red forearm crutches.
Roman, who was born with spina bifida, tried for weeks to walk with the crutches — or as he calls them, “sticks.”
Last Wednesday, he finally got the hang of it. His mom Whitney Dinkel took video on her phone as Roman put one foot in front of the other and followed the family dog down a carpeted hallway.
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“Look Maggie,” Roman told the cockapoo, giggling with delight. “I walking.”
Whitney posted the heartwarming video to Roman’s Facebook page, and it immediately went viral. Within one week, the 7-second clip had 22 million views and comments from thousands of people who said Roman made their day.
“If this doesn’t give you determination to get out of bed and stop complaining about trivial things,” Brandon Inman commented, “nothing will.”
The video also made the rounds on Reddit and Twitter.
“If you haven’t seen that video go watch it,” tweeted Jordyn Day. “Then after you’re done crying, watch it again.”
Before they knew it, Whitney and her husband Adam were scheduling video shoots with CBS News, Fox and Buzzfeed.
The Facebook page they created to share updates about Roman with friends and family jumped from 908 likes to more than 140,000. A GoFundMe page set up to help with Roman’s medical bills has raised more than $10,000.
Hundreds of messages poured in from people who said their spirits were lifted by Roman’s cheerful can-do attitude. They came from all kinds, including parents of kids with special needs, soldiers in Afghanistan, and people battling severe depression.
“We’ve heard from people who said they were suicidal,” says Adam, a chiropractor with an office in Leawood. “They said (the video) gave them hope.”
Adults with spina bifida — a birth defect that occurs when a baby’s spinal column fails to develop properly — also reached out to the Dinkels to share their stories. Some were married, with kids and careers.
Whitney says those stories gave her hope.
“We don’t know what (Roman’s) future holds,” she says. “With spina bifida, it’s always ‘Wait and see.’”
The Dinkels, who are also parents to daughter Gracelyn, 4, and son Layton, 6, say the video perfectly sums up their youngest child’s personality. Roman is bubbly, strong and spunky. He loves animals and people.
According to Whitney, Roman says “hi” to everyone he sees — and won’t stop saying it until they respond.
The 2-year-old faced huge hurdles even before he was born.
When Whitney was 20 weeks pregnant, doctors told the Dinkels that their baby had fluid around his brain and spine.
“They gave us two options,” Adam says. “The first is termination.”
The Dinkels opted for the second option — surgery — knowing that the operation wouldn’t guarantee that their son would ever be able to walk or talk.
When Whitney was six months pregnant, she and Roman underwent a procedure called in-utero fetal repair. Doctors at the St. Louis Fetal Care Institute performed surgery to fix Roman’s spine while he was still in the womb. He was born two months later.
Roman had two brain surgeries before his first birthday — one at three months old and another at nine months.
A couple hours after the second surgery, he was smiling and laughing. The Dinkels also shared that moment on Facebook.
When he was 1, Roman learned to get around with a walker. The walker is great on flat, even surfaces, but it doesn’t allow Roman to play in the yard with his brother and sister.
So shortly after he turned 2, Roman’s parents let him try forearm crutches — even though most kids aren’t able to use them until they’re 3 or 4.
After weeks of practice, Roman is able to walk almost anywhere with his “sticks.”
A video posted to Facebook last weekend shows the 2-year-old banging a crutch on his brother’s bedroom door.
“Open the door please,” he says. Then, when the door opens: “Hi guys.”
That video has more than 1.5 million views. Other clips show Roman pronouncing “caterpillar” in the cutest way possible and dining at a buffet with a vanilla ice cream cone in one hand and a chicken drumstick in the other.
The Dinkels say moments like those remind them — and now, thousands of others — to appreciate what they have.
“There’s always something to be thankful for,” Whitney says.