By MIKE MAGEE
“People might not treat you the right way or they may stare at you. But the way that you treat people is going to go way further than anything else.”
In the summer of 2017, Colleen and Miles Tidd were told that their third child would be born without a left forearm. Colleen later reported that she cried at first, but not for long. They had two other children, girls age 2 and 12, to consider. In preparation for their son Joseph’s birth, they reached out to an advocacy organization, “Lucky Fin”, for information and support.
The name derives from the 2003 Disney classic, “Finding Nemo”, and its’ animated star clownfish, Nemo. He was born with one short fin, the result of a barracuda attack that killed his mother and sister, and cracked his egg while he was still in development. The little fish was left with an over-protective father who, out of fear, tried to limit his future. Nemo resisted and found his strength and purpose, in part, by redefining what other sea creatures saw in him. They saw an unfortunate fish with an abnormally shortened limb. He saw adventure ahead, powered by his “lucky fin.”
Carson Pickett, the soccer star, has her own story. She was born in 1994 near Jacksonville, Florida, with a missing left forearm, nearly identical to Joseph (nicknamed Joe-Joe). Her parents, Treasure and Mike were former college sports stars, committed to expanding rather than limiting their daughter’s horizons. Carson’s mantra became, “Control what you can control”, her own variation of Nemo’s famous, “Just keep swimming.” At age five, her father introduced her to soccer and she never looked back. She was a standout at Florida State University, and was drafted by the National Women’s Soccer League team, Seattle Reign. In 2018, she was part of a three-person trade to the NWSL Orlando Pride.
Colleen and Mike Tidd immediately took notice. Joe-Joe and Carson were both born in Florida, loved soccer, were athletic, and had partially formed left arms. Their limb defects placed them among 2,250 U.S. babies born each year with the condition. By the time their photo was taken in April, 2019, Joe-Joe was 21 months old and had taken to wearing a purple Pride jersey with Carson’s #16 on the back.
The famous photo was taken by Joe-Joe’s mother at a home game when Carson jogged over to the family after hearing their cheers. As reported, “She repeatedly tapped her arm against his as he shrieked with glee.” After the game, the two spent time in the locker room playing their version of peekaboo – pulling up their shirt sleeve to expose their left arms. As Colleen recounted, “It took a minute for him to realize, ‘Wow, we’ve got the same arms,’ and then he just giggled. You could see it hit him, and then they were best friends after that…She’s like me.”
The image speaks loudly, especially to health professionals, who understand and rely on the power of touch. They appreciate as well that fear and worry have a corrosive effect on human beings and their societies, and that isolation adds fuel to the fire. But challenges also carry with them enlightenment. You never know what lies just around the corner.
Just ask Carson Pickett. She’s 27 now, and her Orlando team was sidelined when several members tested positive for Covid, eliminating them from playoff’s. Around the same time, there was a knock on her door, with a package containing an easy entry shoe with a wrap-around strap closure in lieu of laces. The Phantom GT Academy FlyEase was her shoe – literally.
She had teamed up with Nike, and this shoe held special meaning. She recalled “I saw my younger self. I looked at it and it almost brought me to tears because it’s just awesome to see something that would’ve really helped me when I was younger. “
You never know. “Ever since I got to the pros and seeing how many amazing messages I get sent about how I inspire people, some who aren’t even soccer players,” she said. “[Seeing that] just showed me that I can do so much more than just be a good soccer player, and that I could advocate for something much bigger than soccer.”
When they arrived home that day in 2019, Colleen Tidd posted the photo on “tidbit_outta_hand”, an Instagram site she had set up when Joe-Joe was born. Why? She said, “It’s just showing that he might be unique, but he’s no different than anyone else. He’s going to be able to accomplish it all.”
Since then, that photo has touched many others, especially those isolated by the pandemic, or caught in the throes of America’s political upheaval. For all of them, Nemo’s “Just keep swimming”, or Carson’s “Control what you can control”, or Joe-Joe’s ecstatic response to “Reach out and touch”, speak of persistence, resilience, endurance, common humanity – and a better tomorrow.
Mike Magee MD is a Medical Historian and Health Economist and author of “Code Blue: Inside the Medical Industrial Complex.”