9-year old Jonee Matthews looks like a typical fourth grader: when she runs off the school bus from Reynolds Elementary, she looks forward to playing with her best friend, her next-door neighbor Olivia, and with her pet chicken, Hope.
The chicken is a pet, kept in a box in her Lysander home, because its legs were crushed and it has no feet. And Jonee can relate to that: she is missing a leg--it happened before she came home from the hospital as a baby. Part of Jonee's life is getting fitted--as she grows--for new limbs. And the people who build her prosthetics for her, at the Hangar Clinic in Upstate's Bone and Joint Center in East Syracuse, are so intrigued by her chicken that they're experimenting with prosthetics for it, as well. "It's not working how they expected it to," says Jonee, of the work in progress.
Jonee's mother Tina calls her daughter 'a miraculous child.' She was born at three pounds, seven ounces--a preemie--and doctors told the family not to have high expectations. "I think to myself 'ha ha'"says Tina. "You doctors were just so wrong, and she's just above and beyond.
That's not to say it's been an easy nine years---
"She's hittin some battles now," says her mother, "when other children that do't know her are calling her pirate. And I try to tell her, Jonee, that they're not used to seein' that and not to worry, you can do anything they can do, if not better--and I've always pushed that on her."
Jonee is not about to let a prosthetic leg get in her way. She runs track at school--the 800 meters right now--and wants to be in the Olympics some day.
Her older sister Charlee clearly offers support, and so does her father, who's fighting his own battles against a life threatening illness right now. Jonee seems to take it all in stride...showing off her collection of prosthetic legs, from very tiny when she was a baby, to the brightly decorated current models.
And the chicken, Hope, is never far and always an inspiration.
'And even when she was going thru therapy and stuff," says Tina, "I always told everyone don't treat her like she's handicapped. Don't be easy. And I've
never been easy with her.
The leg makers told us they see Jonee --with her cheerful disposition--as an inspiration to their other patients. When we asked Jonee if she liked being an inspiration, she told us "It makes me feel like I'm not different from other people."