More About Tad Lietz

In class, on the field or playing the cello - Tad just keeps being Tad
By Kathy Walsh Nufer

Tad Lietz, that remarkable 12-year-old who plays the cello with his foot and overcomes life's obstacles with confidence and contagious good cheer, just continues to make waves since the public met him in a Post-Crescent article and photo essay last summer.

Tad, you may remember, was born with his left arm missing at the shoulder.

He lived his first few years in an orphanage in Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City where conditions were relentlessly grim.

When Jeff and Mary Lietz of Appleton adopted him at age three, he was malnourished, weighed 16 pounds, could barely stand much less walk, had ruptured eardrums and suffered from parasites.

Undaunted, the Lietzes welcomed him into a warm and loving home and tended to his every need whether it be surgery, medication or therapy.

They began making regular visits to Shriners Hospital of Chicago, a habit to this day.

There he gets his prostheses and the chance to reconnect with other kids who face up to the challenge of missing arms and legs every day.

Even so, there really is no one quite like the irrepressible Tad, whose passion for making music led him to figure out a way to play the cello by grasping the bow with his toes.

Because of his I-can-do-anything attitude, Tad was selected as patient representative for the 1999 Wisconsin Shrine Bowl in Madison, a major hospital moneymaker featuring the top high school football players in the state.

Now he has been chosen as this year's "Patient Success Story" in the orthopedic category for all 22 Shriners hospitals in the country.

Last Sunday a film crew was in town to videotape Tad at home and soccer practice.

Monday, the crew was at Johnston Elementary School following him and his sixth-grade classmates around and watching him perform his cello solo in a concert.

They interviewed his teacher James Trettin, who talked about the essay Tad just wrote about who he would like to be.

Rather than some famous personage, Tad preferred to be himself.

After all, he wrote, there are many people in the world who have two hands but don't try.

This July, Tad and his family will be flown to Boston for the Shriners national convention where his inspirational video will be shown.

The video will then be submitted to the New York Film Festival.

That's heavy stuff for a 12-year-old, but Tad just seems to cruise happily along, totally at ease with himself and barreling over every obstacle in his path.

He has grown a couple inches since last summer and his voice gets deeper by the day.

He went downhill skiing for the first time this past winter and just as he hoped, was invited to perform at the Wisconsin Timber Rattler's home opener last month.

A couple weeks ago he won second place in a local cello competition and one of the judges, a cellist with the Los Angeles Opera and Mozart Orchestra, invited him to L.A.

Tad now wears two hearing aids and uses a radio system at school to better hear his teachers.

"We didn't realize he had such a hearing loss," says Mary Lietz, noting his delight in hearing birds chirp in the backyard after he put on his new programmable hearing aids.

This latest discovery gives her an even deeper appreciation of his musical gift, and his determination to make the most of it.

What mountains to climb does he have next in mind, she cannot say. She's content to hang on for the ride as "Tad just keeps on being Tad."

E-mail Kathy Walsh Nufer at