The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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November 18, 2012

Her legs don't work, but 6-year-old has a good life

MANKATO — Don’t you dare feel sorry for her.

She doesn’t need your pity, doesn’t want it. In fact, before you think anything of Madison Harbarth, introduce yourself to the 6-year-old from Mankato, and then decide if you think she needs your pity..

Listen to her world’s cutest laugh. Gaze upon her brilliant smile. Watch her play “Happy Birthday” on the piano, show off her latest dance move, read from her favorite book, or belt out her favorite Taylor Swift song.

To see Madison Harbarth in action is to see a vision of grace and beauty joy all wrapped up in a little ball of Barbie eyeglasses, cute boots and fierce independence.

While you’re noticing these things, you might also notice she can’t walk, doesn’t get around like all the other kids, can’t use her legs to chase after the ball on the playground.

Yes, you may notice these things. But don’t feel sorry for her.

It’s true, she can’t walk. But she can roll — all by herself, thank you very much. And yes, it’s true, she can’t use her legs to chase that ball. But she’s proving to everyone at Franklin Elementary School that she doesn’t need working legs to go after it, or to mix it up with her friends, or climb the jungle gym after school.

Madison is in kindergarten now. But the Harbarth family has been trying to figure out what to do with her since even before she was born.

While still in utero, doctors discovered she had a rare disorder called sacral agenesis syndrome, which is characterized by abnormal development of the spine. The lower half of Madison’s body (including her feet, legs, tailbone, and even her spine) didn’t completely develop. She’s been going to Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare for surgeries and assistive technology services since birth, where doctors continue to monitor her abnormally-shaped spine.

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