In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

March 12, 2015

Kicking It With Ty Wiberg – Teen Born With Spina Bifida Gets His Black Belt

By In the Loop

Ty Wieberg received his black belt in karate despited the challenges of spina bifida. Getting your black belt in karate is a big milestone. For Ty Wiberg, age 13, of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, reaching that goal with his mom by his side was an especially big deal. Born with spina bifida, he wasn't expected to be able to walk, much less pull off a mawashi-geri. And while Ty might get a roundhouse kick out of that statement, considering his determination not to let anything get in his way, his parents are continually amazed by what he's been able to achieve.

"I think his tenacity and his ability to just keep going and keep a positive attitude when things are rough is pretty amazing," Ty's mom, Michele Wiberg, tells Mayo Clinic Health System's Hometown Health Blog. His father, Al, agrees. "That's the biggest thing that I see with Ty, too," he says. "He always wants to try new things." A common refrain of Ty's, Al says, is, "If everyone else can do it, why can't I?"

Ty's parents learned about his condition during a routine ultrasound. Jane Byrd, M.D., of Mayo Clinic Health System, who has been Ty's pediatrician since birth, tells WEAU-TV in Eau Claire that it hasn't been an easy road, but Ty "is one of the most driven patients" she's ever had. It also has taken a fair bit of surgical wizardry to get Ty to this point. When the neural tube fails to properly close, as happens with spina bifida, it can damage the spinal cord. The 7th-grader has undergone 16 surgeries, walks with braces, and uses a wheelchair when he has to cover a greater distance. He also suffers from hydrocephalus, a buildup of fluid in the brain.

Not that any of that is slowing him down. Ty mono-skis, races with his wheelchair, scuba dives, plays wheelchair basketball, and swims, among other things. He also recently returned from a week-long downhill ski camp in Colorado for kids with disabilities and injured veterans. And then there's karate. Ty has trained in the martial art for eight years, according to the folks at WEAU-TV, who were there earlier this month to capture his story and the black belt ceremony. (Watch the video below.)

"It's exhausting, but I'm kind of awestruck," Ty tells WEAU. "It kind of took a while for me to realize that I actually got my black belt. It means that I've accomplished a lot throughout the years that I've been doing this." And not one to shy away from a challenge, Ty says he hopes one day to become a doctor and work in Mayo's Spina Bifida Clinic in Rochester, where he receives specialized care. "If you put your mind to it, you can do it," he says.

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Tags: Dr. Jane Byrd, Eau Claire, Mayo Clinic Health System, Patient Stories, Spina Bifida

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