Skylar Scarnecchia, an eighth grader from Champion Township, Ohio, overcame major medical and physical obstacles to return to playing competitive sports.
n 2015, Scarnecchia began to experience discomfort on the bottom of her right foot causing her to limp. She was treated for plantar fasciitis, however the pain continued to intensify. In efforts to find the cause of the pain, Scarnecchia’s mother asked for an MRI to be taken which revealed a tumor on the bottom of her foot. Scarnecchia, who was 10 years old at the time, was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, a rare form of soft-tissue cancer.A full-body scan found three additional spots on her lung. Her case was reviewed by the Cleveland Clinic tumor board who put together a treatment plan. Scarnecchia started chemotherapy, receiving treat-ment once a week for three months. At the end of Scarnecchia’s treatment, a scan showed two of the three spots on her lung had gone away. However, the tumor on the ball of her right foot had not responded to chemotherapy. Because of the location of the tumor and the need to remove all of the cancer on her foot, amputation was recommended. This decision was made together with Skylar’s family and surgeon, Nathan Mesko, M.D., director of Musculoskeletal Oncology in the Orthopaedic & Rheumatologic Institute and co-director of the Sarcoma Center at Cleveland Clinic. In December 2016, Scarnecchia had surgery to amputate below the knee on her right leg. With the surgery and intense treatment that followed, she missed the entire fifth grade school year but remained determined to get back to playing sports. She was fitted for a prosthetic leg in March 2017, and then was sized for the prosthetic blade runner a few months later. By August 2017, Scarnecchia was back on the soccer field and then followed that by participating in travel basketball. In July 2019, Scarnecchia’s family shared her routine follow-up showed that she is 32 months in remission. In addition to soccer, the middle schooler participates in track and field and volleyball. Scarnecchia recently signed with a professional talent agency and is excited to use that platform to increase awareness of sarcoma as well as prove to others that being amputee does not slow you down.
Sarnecchia lives with Patricia and Jim, her parents, and Isaiah, her older brother. She has a public Instagram account, @IamSkylarStrong that she uses to raise awareness childhood cancer and life after amputation. Additionally, Scarnecchia has a pelican named after her from Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater, Florida, whose leg is permanently misshapen due to a previous injury.Cleveland Clinic Sports Health Courage Award is given to an athlete who has displayed courage beyond the boundaries of the playing field to inspire those around them.