Imagine being 13 years old, in eighth grade, and every step you took brought intense pain. That was Nathan Bojan’s life.
A trip to an orthopedist and the Bojans had an answer: Nathan had a condition called Tarsal Coalition—the abnormal connection of two bones in the foot. Where people normally have tissue between bone, Nathan had none. Each step was agony.
Soon after the diagnosis, Nathan had his first surgery, but it did not resolve the problem. Over the course of the next few years, he underwent a total of six operations, each with varying recovery schedules, all of which involved getting around on a scooter, hours of physical therapy and plenty of time off his feet.
After a trip to Israel this past summer, he developed a blood blister on his right ankle that turned into cellulitis and a strep infection where a screw had been surgically implanted—an infection so serious that it could have killed him. Fortunately, he fully recovered, though he spent his birthday in August in the hospital.
Throughout Nathan’s ordeal, Friendship Circle of Wisconsin—a division of Lubavitchof Wisconsin—served as a staunch support system. Volunteers visited the hospital, bringing food and reading material, and helped with whatever needs the family required. For their part, the Bojans—including Nathan’s father, Steve; his mother, Shawn; and his sister, Leigh—say they are tremendously grateful for the love and attention showered upon them.
And now Nathan, 16, wants to give back.
In January, he and his mother will travel to Florida to participate in a half-marathon—that’s 13.1 miles—to raise money for Milwaukee’s Friendship Circle. It’s particularly meaningful since walking has been one of the most difficult challenges Nathan has faced in his young years. He will walk, however, slowly, with his mom by his side.
“Raising money for Friendship Circle is extremely important to me,” he says. “I want to see our Milwaukee group grow. It needs to reach every person who could benefit from it. I want to be a part of that.”
This desire to pay it forward did not start with Nathan’s medical tribulations. When he was in fourth grade, Nathan was assigned as the Friendship Circle “buddy” of two high school seniors, Jack and Jacob, so he could improve certain social and physical skills. They visited with him every Sunday, taught him to play basketball, took him bowling and just hung out with him. It was the day of the week Nathan looked forward to the most. As his mother recalls: “G‑d forbid, we had to cancel a Sunday with Jack and Jacob. Nathan would get very upset.”
Prompted by the positive experience, Nathan wanted to do for others. In sixth grade, he joined the drum circle and a music program called “Chai Notes,” saying he liked to make other people smile. “Smiling is contagious,” says the teenager. “I always appreciate when someone walks up to me with a smile that lights up the room.”
“What I love about Friendship Circle,” continues Nathan, “is that it’s so much more than getting together with people with special needs. It’s providing a comfortable place to have all people interact together and develop tight-knit bonds.”
Rabbi Levi Stein, director of Friendship Circle of Wisconsin, says: “I find tremendous inspiration whenever teens take time out of their busy schedules to volunteer for an important cause. It’s actions like Nathan’s that make me so grateful to do this work.”
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