By Wendy Leonard
WEST VALLEY CITY — Dakota Bennett came into the world exceptionally early.
He was born at 26 weeks and as such experienced significant health problems from a very young age.
“I was back and forth with different emotions,” said his mother, Shanna Addis, who was 19 years old at the time. “The first two years were kind of rough.”
Addis’ much-anticipated baby endured surgeries too many to count beginning at just 2 days old. Through it all, Addis said she continued to hope her boy, the first of two, would have a healthy, happy life despite the difficulties.
Bennett, now 19, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and didn’t have control of the muscles in his left leg. Doctors at Shriners Hospitals for Children in Salt Lake City have performed countless surgeries to help straighten and strengthen his leg, but until recently, Bennett couldn’t put his heel to the ground.
“The surgeries can be scary at first, but it gets easier with each one,” he said, adding that he doesn’t let his disability get to him.
Thanks to the “miracles performed there,” Addis said Bennett will participate in a 1.5-mile walk Saturday to benefit the hospital that helped him regain mobility and lead a relatively normal life.
Bennett’s team, called “Team Dakota — 19 Years Strong,” has raised nearly $600 to give back to Shriners, and it will be joined by hundreds of other walkers and donors, including many of the hospital’s current patients, some of whom use walkers, canes and wheelchairs to get around.
“Our patients have been amping up for this. We want them to feel a sense of accomplishment as they finish,” said Dawn Wright, public relations manager for the local hospital.
Shriners got its start in the 1920s providing care to children with polio. Its mission has grown out of a desire to help children regain mobility lost because of various orthopedic conditions — to get kids walking and playing again, Wright said.