Tad Lietz, Cellist

Shriners patient gives musical tribute
to those who have helped so much

May 12, 2001

When Tad Lietz plays the cello, people listen, not only because he an accomplished cellist, but also because he is missing his left arm and bows with his left foot.

On Wednesday, July 5, at the annual Shriners Convention, 12-year-old Shriners Hospital patient Tad Lietz, who wears a prosthetic left arm, performed a cello solo as a display of his appreciation for all the Shriners have done for him. While the music comes from his heart, he fingers the strings with his right hand and draws the bow with his left foot. About 2,000 Shriners and their families were in attendence for this emotional, surprise appearance and performance in Veterans Hall of the Hynes Convention Center.

Today a bright, active boy from Appleton, Wis., Tad was found on the steps of a crowded orphanage in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, shortly after his birth. He spent the first three years of his life in unimaginable conditions. Rice and milk were his only foods, and clothing and medical attention were nearly non-existent. The little boy spent his days lying in a crib with no clothes, no toys, and little interaction. His missing arm, a congenital defect presumably caused by latent effects of Agent Orange, may have saved him from being sold into international slave labor.

The Lietz family: Jeff and Mary and their two children, Mark, on dad's lap, and Tad, the cellist.

Jeff and Mary Lietz, childless for 15 years, spent nearly a year working to bring Tad to their home in Wisconsin. When they met him at the airport in Vietnam, his ears were badly infected. During the flight to the United States, his insect-eaten ear drums ruptured; the medication he was given en route in Thailand had been pure opium.

At about age 3, Tad weighed 16 pounds, could not hear, crawl or sit up. His eyes wandered; he carried intestinal worms; and blood tests showed a potentially fatal liver disease.

His physical problems were complicated by emotional and social baggage. He screamed through the night for weeks, freezing in one position. If an adhesive bandage was placed on him, he would tug at his mouth; psychologists assumed that his mouth had sometimes been taped shut at the orphanage. There were scars all over from insect bites, cuts and burns. He constantly beat himself with his fists and pounded his crib for hours.

Tad's new family faced many sleepless nights and endless challenges. The Lietzes' tenacity was immense, but they encountered one seemingly immovable roadblock common to many adoptive parents: inadequate medical insurance. Carriers refused to provide coverage to Tad because he was adopted or because his medical problems were pre-existing conditions. New coverage would be severely limited and highly expensive.

At an adoption meeting, Mary Lietz met another mother who raved about her child's expert treatment at a Shriners Hospital. Within days, members of Beja Shrine Temple in Green Bay, Wis., visited the family to help the Lietzes apply for treatment. Tad's medical care at the Chicago Shriners Hospital confirmed everything Mary's acquaintance had said.

"The atmosphere is one of such joy and hope, and technological advances in medical science are continually being made available to us here," according to Jeff Lietz, a project engineer. "At Shriners, children learn to view themselves not as handicapped, but as children who have learned different ways to do things. Here, it's easy for parents to overcome any negative thoughts."

Tad's doctor, Jeffrey Ackman, M.D., assistant chief of staff and head of the prosthetics program, said that the Chicago Shriners Hospital allows Tad to have the self-confidence to achieve his full potential. "We want him to realize that the only limits on what he can do are those he imposes on himself," Ackman stated. Children fitted at a very young age almost always adapt readily to prostheses, and as they grow, the artificial limb seems to become part of them in a manner seldom seen in adults.

Mary, an X-ray technologist, suggests that the accomplishments of the other children Tad sees at Shriners are contagious. One day during an impromptu cello performance at the hospital, for instance, Tad talked with a high school athlete who also competed this year at the state level in the French horn. She herself uses a prosthesis to hold her instrument. Few who watched these two engaging young people talk about music, their orchestras and their schools would be tempted to use the word "disabled."

Shriners Hospitals for Children is a system of 22 of the most technologically-advanced pediatric hospitals in the world, with an active patient roster of more than 175,000. Shriners Hospitals provide care to children under the age of 18 with orthopaedic problems, severe burns and spinal cord injuries, regardless of race, religion or relationship to a Shriner. All medical care and services at Shriners Hospitals are given at absolutely no charge.

If you know a child that Shriners might be able to help, call the toll-free referral number at 1-800-237-5055 in the United States or 1-800-361-7256 in Canada.