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A chance encounter with a little hero re-orders the Universe

In a perfect world, we'd all be born with the right number of bones in our feet. But that's not the case for 2-year-old Taylor Downs, the little girl featured in the kick-off to our Light One Candle series this year.

Nor is it the case for me.

Taylor was born without any bones in her left foot. This tiny babe with the brilliant blue eyes and the elfin smile has already endured the amputation of her vestigial appendage. And she has more surgeries to come.

This week a doctor told me I was born with one too many bones in my left foot. And then he had his nurse strap me into a Star Wars Stormtrooper boot and told me to come back in a month.

The hope is my tender tendon, aggravated over the past year by this extra bone, will heal with rest and restricted movement. Otherwise I'll be having my own, much more minor, surgery, he says.

Taylor's differences were visible at birth. But I've gone my whole life without anyone having a clue there was an extra hunk of calcium roaming around in my now size-9 foot.

What are the odds I'd learn that little factoid just hours before meeting my newest, littlest hero?

I like to think it was the Universe's way of smacking me upside the head about gratitude. And keeping a positive attitude. Because the discomfort I'm dealing with due to my "birth defect" is miniscule compared to Taylor's challenges.

Not only was Taylor born without a left foot, she is also missing all of the bones in her left hand. She has just a wee thumb and pinky finger at the end of a tiny knob of flesh that looks like a little clenched fist. Clearly there will be more challenges to face.

When I think about what Taylor has endured, and what she will endure, I want to cry. But when I think about Taylor — just Taylor — I can't help but smile. This is a gamine tot with incredible moxie and a loving disposition.

Taylor's parents, Jamey and Misti, and her older sisters, Danielle and Brooke, view Taylor as a delightful final addition to their mix.

"I can't imagine my life without her," says Misti.

While they are supportive and caring, they are not over-protective. They are determined to allow Taylor to shine. And pity-parties are not on their calendar.

"Her whole first year was just a blur because I felt so terrible for her. But had I known then what I know now, I wouldn't have worried so much. She's just Taylor. And our goal is to let her have a life as normal as possible," said Misti.

One thing they mentioned was how they wished people would feel free to ask about Taylor's differences. And to let their children do the same.

"People shush their children when they ask, or even if they look at Taylor. But it's normal for kids to be curious. We wish they'd just ask so we can talk about it. Then it's over and they're fine," said Misti.

When I galumphed into her living room Wednesday night, I was hoping the sight of the high-tech aircast on my left leg would give us something to bond over. But Taylor was snuggled up with her dad, Jamey, on the couch watching Disney cartoons and missed my entrance.

Misti, a natural nurturer, was a picture of compassion and concern. She asked me what had happened to my leg. I told her about my extra bone. And how it came to light Tuesday night after an impromptu salsa session sent me hobbling back to the same doc I'd seen six months ago. Apparently his idea of rest and mine were not the same. So he took a more proactive stance to limit my activities.

Probably a good thing, I said. My nocturnal dancing had scared my parrots witless. Judging from the hysterical squawking and flying feathers, boogying around barefoot in my kitchen in the wee hours of the night had convinced them I was being attacked by invisible muggers.

When we were all seated around the Downs' dining room table, Misti brought out a plaster mold of Taylor's former foot, and her tiny prosthetic leg. Her "helper leg" or "boot" — as they call it.

I nearly lost it. The tiny plaster mold showed every little wrinkle in that poor little foot. And the prosthetic had chipped pink polish on its tiny toes. But Taylor's eyes lit up when she saw her prosthetic.

"Boot!" she cried, eyes alight.

When I stepped away from the table to leave, Taylor saw the grey monstrosity strapped onto my lower left leg for the first time. Turning in her mother's arms, she pointed down to it. Then her big blue eyes locked onto my brown orbs — and she gave me a big toothy grin.

"Boot!!" she said again, with a knowing nod.

I wonder whether her folks will think it's odd if I ask for a play date. Something tells me I could learn a lot from Taylor Downs. Maybe she can teach me to dance.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.