Cameron Mathison is 33 years older and about two feet taller than 7-year-old Luke Negrin, but the two have one unique characteristic in common: They both had the degenerative bone disease called Perthes.
Perthes syndrome, a hip disease that doctors say attacks the femur and affects about five out of every 100,000 children, forced Mathison to wear large leg braces for four long years as a child. In the years since, while Mathison was off developing into a soap opera star and a "Good Morning America" special contributor, treatment for the disease evolved from leg braces.
It wasn't until Mathison told "GMA" his own story about his struggle with Perthes that he realized how much things had changed.
"So, am I hearing that I may have worn that brace for four years for no reason?" Mathison asked Dr. Joshua Hyman of NewYork Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital, only half-joking.
"Well, partly," Hyman said. "There's little doubt, I think, in the pediatric orthopedic community that immobilizing the children with Perthes is probably not the best thing for them."
For Luke, the trouble began when he started limping two years ago. The New Jersey boy's parents first thought it was growing pains, but it got worse.
"I used to put him to bed and he used to tell us, 'My leg hurts. My leg hurts,'" Luke's father, Paul Negrin, said. "It just got progressively worse ... [it was] hard to move his legs."
From Physical Therapy to Surgery to Running Again
When Luke was 6, he started with physical therapy treatment and had to avoid impact activities. It's the frustration that came with the restriction of movement that Mathison said he can identify with. Luke couldn't run around and play sports like most 6-year-olds.
"You can't tell a 6-year-old he can't run," Negrin said. "It's a tough thing to do."
"I did not like it," Luke said.
In most cases, such treatment allows the disease to run its course until the bone heals, but Luke's case was more serious and required surgery. For a month after, Luke had to wear a body brace, and when he could walk, he needed the help of a walker.
But when Christmas came around, it turned out Luke just needed a little holiday inspiration.
"Santa Claus said to Luke, 'Listen, in order to get your presents, you had to walk from your bed to the Christmas tree to open your presents, right?'" Negrin said. "Then, on Christmas morning, he put down that walker we had and walked his way to open up all his presents."
Now, a year after he couldn't walk, Luke is running around playing soccer, baseball and riding his bike, just like any other 7-year-old.