Circus Helps Teen Recover From Rare Disease

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LUDLOW, KY (Sydney Benter) – A 14-year-old from Ft. Thomas recovered from a rare disorder with the help of some circus performers he met at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC).

When Joey Holt was 10-years-old he suffered with intense joint pain that doctors chalked up to growing pains. His mother refused to accept that was the reason. “He actually stood up out of bed one day and collapsed to the ground. I knew there was no way this was growing pains,” says Gina Stegner. She was persistent and eventually got an answer from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Joey was diagnosed with Langerhans cell histiocytosis (LCH), a rare disease that can attack skin, organs, or–in Joey’s case–bone.

“One of the things he did look forward to was at his appointments Circus Mojo would be there in the orthopedic department and they would be performing and that’s how we first met them, which was incredible. They would entertain us,” says Stegner.

Joey had lots of therapy after an operation. That meant lots of time spent at Children’s Hospital. He asked his mom to schedule his appointments around the same time that Circus Mojo would be there.

“I had tried pretty much every sport. I had done baseball, basketball, taekwondo, soccer, and I really didn’t like it. I don’t know what about this I liked so much, it just actually clicked for me,” says Joey.

He made it his mission to get well enough to tackle the circus trucks on his own. Doctors told his parents Joey might not walk again. He proved them wrong.

“He came in a wheelchair and he really wanted to do this and I said, not until you can walk on the cable wheel. And there’s no crying, there’s no negotiating–it was, if you can’t do this, you’re not going to do that,” says Paul Miller, founder of Circus Mojo. Miller started the company six years ago in Ludlow Kentucky. CCHMC contracts with the circus group to perform for patients a few days a week. Joey went to one of Circus Mojo’s summer camps and then started training with them once a week. He’s learned to juggle, ride a unicycle and do some acrobatics. The circus helped Joey recover after the dark period that followed his diagnosis. “I have tried to drain most of it out. It was not the best time of my life,” says Joey.

“Circus has been a huge part of helping him fight through that, finding something he loves and his passion,” says Stegner.

Joey will travel to Germany this summer with Circus Mojo to perform and learn new tricks. He can’t wait until he turns 18 and can return to Children’s Hospital–this time as a circus performer and not a patient.

“I want it to be my job and it’s something that I love to do and something that I would love to be able to do for the rest of my life,” says Joey.

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