Return to Tennis
USTA Adaptive Tennis Committee | November 1, 2018
In 2014, Dionte Foster, a native of St. Kitts in the Bahamas and avid tennis player, was training for the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles when he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, bone cancer. This required the amputation of his left leg above the knee, which devastated Foster.
“Tennis is my world. It almost felt like it was the end of life,” Foster said. “But, I became determined not to give up. I’ve been living life to the fullest ever since and trying to be strong for my mom and me.”
Foster, at age 24, not only lost his leg, but the cancer had spread to his lungs, requiring surgery and chemotherapy. He received this treatment in upstate N.Y. because adequate treatment was not available in the Caribbean. Foster, like the champion that he is, battled against cancer, and just like on the tennis court, won the battle. ADVERTISEMENT He continued to play tennis on his remaining leg. Foster would even train hopping up and down bleachers. Special Olympics officials began to raise money to get Foster a prosthetic leg. News of his story reached Matt Holder M.D., M.B.A. and CEO of the Lee Specialty Clinic, who also serves as the global medical advisor for the Special Olympics.
Holder, seeking help, contacted Priya Chandan, M.D., M.P.H. assistant professor in the Division of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation in the University of Louisville’s Department of Neurological Surgery, who was also a Special Olympics Kentucky board member. It was through the University of Lexington connection that Matthew Adamkin, M.D., UofL Physicians-Physical Medicine & rehabilitation, was tapped to provide care at no cost to Foster. Adamkin prescribed the prosthetic and worked closely with licensed prosthetist and pedorthotist Wayne Luckett of Louisville Prosthetics to ensure it would meet Foster’s needs. Luckett obtained specialized components for the prosthetic through donations from Freedom Innovations, Martin-Martin Bionics, Endolite North America and American Prosthetics, so he was able to donate the $61,000 prosthetic leg to Foster.
Luckett then sought help to get Foster back on the tennis court. He reached out and contacted Jeff Bourns of Houston, an Adaptive Touring Tennis Pro. Bourns holds a top-five world ranking on the TAP World Tour, a competitive circuit for tennis players with physical disabilities who play standing rather than in wheelchairs. He also serves on the USTA Texas Adaptive Tennis and Community Development Committees, as well as teaches an amputee tennis class for the City of Houston. Growing up on a prosthetic leg, he played on his high school’s tennis team against able-bodied competitors and now specializes in movement, and teaching amputees, both new and seasoned, how to strengthen their body to play tennis and move on a prosthesis.
When Bourns met Foster, he was very impressed with Foster’s ball striking ability. Foster caught on very quickly and had the desire and work ethic.
“The sky is the limit for Dionte,” Bourns said.
For Bourns, it was also a very inspirational personal experience. A week prior he had lost a good friend to the same form of cancer. When Bourns had lunch with his friend Daniel Lopez a year earlier, they discussed his cancer, and Jeff encouraged him toward amputation. Ultimately he did not go through with it soon enough and passed away. So for Bourns seeing Foster and his passion for life and tennis, he also saw some of his friend Daniel in Foster as well, saying, “Daniel’s spirit will always live on for me through Dionte.”
Foster, unable to compete in the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi this year, is now back in St. Kitts. Bourns will continue to create personalized training videos for Dionte to help him get stronger and return to tennis competition to show the world the true champion of life and tennis that he is.