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 15-Year-Old Double Amputee Inspires Vikings & Fans as 'Hometown Hero'

EAGAN, Minn. – It's rare that Isaiah Williams doesn't have anything to say.

After easily asking questions and offering compliments to Vikings players who greeted him after practice, Isaiah suddenly found himself speechless when approached by General Manager Rick Spielman.

"They [told me], 'You're going to meet a special person,' and I'm like, 'Which special person? There's a lot of special people on this team. You can't just say that,' " Williams later told "And then he came up to me, and he just said, 'Hey,' like he was a [regular] person."

Isaiah, his mother Audrey and three close friends visited Verizon Vikings Training Camp on Aug. 16. Spielman ribbed Isaiah – "Do you want my job?" – and asked him about his favorite players – it's hard for Isaiah to narrow down, but he's a big Anthony Barr fan.

Spielman one of several visitors for Isaiah following the Vikings morning walk-through session.

Stefon Diggs, Eric Kendricks and a crew of others stopped by Isaiah's wheelchair to sign autographs, snap photos and offer words of encouragement to the 15-year-old, who just two months prior had undergone an amputation of his left foot and ankle.

"I've never seen anything like this. The players literally just came up to me, and they're so chill," Isaiah said.

"Harrison Smith opened the door for me," Isaiah added in awe. "Like, the best free safety in the league opened the door for _me_."

It's been a rough road for Isaiah, but you'd never know it by talking to him. He radiates confidence, and his upbeat demeanor and outlook on life far exceed his years.

"Talking to him is like talking to a 50-year-old," Audrey chuckled about her son. "I look at him, and I live life through his lens, and I say, 'If he can live with this perspective, so can I.' He's a pretty good kid."

Following a diagnosis with determination

When Isaiah was born in 2003, nurses wouldn't initially let Audrey see him.

"The nurse just looked at me and said, 'Your son is missing some toes, and his leg is shorter than the other leg,' " Audrey recalled. "They took him away from me and got him washed up, and I said, 'I need to see my son.' "

Audrey remembers that day like it was yesterday: the concerned looks on nurses' faces, the number of people standing just inside her hospital room, seemingly waiting for some sort of reaction.

When Audrey was finally handed Isaiah, however, she calmly and gently laid him on the bed in front of her, removed the swaddle and for the first time saw the deformity she hadn't been aware of during pregnancy.

"We're going to get through this," Audrey told her newborn son.

"I folded the blanket back up and looked at the nurse, and I said, 'Can you get me the things I need to give my son his first bath?' " Audrey recalled 15 years later.

Isaiah was diagnosed with Fibula Hemimelia, a birth defect where all or part of the fibula bone is missing. The condition is often accompanied with limb length discrepancy as well as foot and knee deformities. In Isaiah's case, the entire fibula on the right side was missing, and his tibia was bent "like a pretzel." He had only three toes, but they were just flesh rather than bones. On the left side, he had a severe club foot.

Audrey was given options by the doctors – she could opt for a limb-lengthening procedure, which would attempt to stretch the bones over time but likely would mean Isaiah would not walk on his own until age 21. Specialists instead encouraged amputation of the right foot, suggesting that it was Isaiah's best chance at a high quality of life.

Looking back, Audrey called that day the hardest of her life.

"I did not know if my son would hate me for making the decision, but I, as the parent, had to make the decision," she said.

Audrey clearly remembers the drive back from the hospital, down to the detail of the U-Haul truck she drove behind. When she arrived at home, she lifted up a 5-month-old Isaiah and bounced him on her lap. Up to that point he hadn't started making many sounds, but he put his tiny hands on mother's cheeks and began to babble.

"As if he's telling me, 'You know what to do, Mom. You got this.' I laid him down, and he went to sleep," Audrey said emotionally. "I knew then that I had to make the choice to have his leg amputated so he could have a good chance at life."

Isaiah was 10 months old when he underwent the first amputation, after which he was fitted with a prosthesis and learned to walk at a year old.

As he grew, Isaiah didn't let his disability slow him down. He first was introduced to football at 8 years old, and he fell in love with the sport.

Even while battling additional problems with his left foot – undergoing additional surgeries and being fitted with a cumbersome brace that made it difficult to find shoes or cleats – Isaiah continued to play football. Audrey even put a hold on attending college classes in order to make sure she could drive her son to and from practice because "it was just that important to him."

"Through that whole time, I was going through a lot of stuff," Isaiah said. "But football, you get to be a team, have fun [and] joke around while also being together and battling on the field. So just being a team like that [was amazing]. And the atmosphere of football, everybody's so hyped up and ready. It's just great."

In the eighth grade, Isaiah started playing for the Edison High School football team and even participated in a couple of varsity games under the lights.

As a ninth grader, however, Isaiah's left foot produced more problems than before. The pain became so severe that walking became nearly impossible, and he eventually became wheelchair bound.

"This past year, it got really, really tough for Isaiah. He started failing classes, he [couldn't play football]. He loves drama, he loves the stage, and he stopped that," Audrey said. "He came in once and said, 'Mom, do you ever get to the point where you're just angry and don't know why you're angry?' "

Isaiah had gone from an A student to barely passing, and pain in his foot and leg often kept him from school and Audrey from work.

Doctors said that nothing else could be done to improve the foot, and the family was once again faced with a life-altering decision. Audrey told Isaiah that he needed to make the call but that she would support him 100 percent in whatever he decided.

"Making that decision as a 15-year-old is really hard. Like, really hard. Because your whole life is changing through this decision. And I just told my mom, 'I'm going to do this,' " Isaiah said.

On June 13, Isaiah's right foot was removed, making him a double amputee.

"As soon as they [started to] put me to sleep, I felt this calmness that everything was going to be OK," Isaiah said.

And while the initial decision was an emotional one, Isaiah has handled the situation with his usual cheerfulness and determination.

"He's been such a good sport about it since the surgery – 'Well, now that we've done got that over with,' " Audrey said with a smile. "He's like, 'OK, I've got living to do. What else is next?' That has been his attitude."

Stefon Diggs, Eric Kendricks and a crew of others stopped by Isaiah's wheelchair to sign autographs, snap photos and offer words of encouragement to the 15-year-old, who just two months prior had undergone an amputation of his left foot and ankle.

Fighting to get back to football

With his family and friends – whom Audrey jokingly refers to as "Isaiah's bodyguards" – by his side, Isaiah is pressing forward and hopes to be back on the football field for his junior season in 2019.

For now, he'll settle for watching the team that he loves.

Don't bother Isaiah on a Sunday afternoon, because he'll be glued to the television for the weekly lineup of NFL games.

"He's been a Vikings fan since he could say 'Vikings,' " quipped Audrey, a Chicago native. "It's fun to see his energy through the good and the bad – that's how I know he's a diehard fan. Because if they're losing, he's still rooting for his team. You can't say anything bad about his Vikings."

Which is what made the August visit to training camp at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center such an unforgettable experience for Isaiah, who also was recognized as the "Hometown Hero" at last night's preseason game against the Seahawks.

Isaiah attended one of two joint practices between the Vikings and Jaguars, and although he typically wouldn't be too excited about an opponent, he made an exception for a special connection. Isaiah was introduced to Jaguars strength and conditioning associate Sean Karpf, a U.S. Army Veteran. Karpf served as a sergeant with the 82nd Airborne and, during a tour in Afghanistan, stepped on a bomb and suffered a wound so severe that it required a below-knee amputation of his left leg.

He and Isaiah bonded over shared experiences of prosthetics and emotional challenges, but Karpf encouraged the young football fan and reminded him that, with today's medical advances and current technology, "the sky's the limit" for amputees.

"It's all in here," Karpf said, tapping his chest. "As long as you've got a good heart, you'll never have a problem doing what you want to do."

Isaiah and Audrey hope to inspire and support other families facing a similar experience to theirs. Audrey has started a support group for parents of amputee children, and Isaiah had a message to share with other young people who may be going through a similar situation.

"It's going to be hard," Isaiah said. "But the more you stress yourself and the more you start to break down mentally, that was a problem I had … Some things just need to [happen], and you're not always going to like it. But sometimes that's just life.

"You kind of just have to ride the wave," Isaiah added after pausing to think. "You ride the wave out until it dies down."