Paying it forward: The story of a golf cart and a connection between families

Katie DeGrace sits with Larry Prout Jr. in the golf cart she gave him on Sunday. Katie got it when she was hospitalized with ovarian cancer 11 years ago. The only stipulation was that she pay it forward, a promise she fulfilled when giving the cart to Larry on Sunday. (Photo by Tim Robinson)
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Throughout their son’s life, Kathryn and Larry Prout Sr. have been the beneficiaries of many kind gestures.

But, when their son, Larry Jr., asked his mom if he could get a golf cart to drive around his family’s property in Marion Township, she wasn’t prepared for the response she got.

“I had put on Facebook that for some time we had been looking for a golf cart for Larry Jr., (asking) if anyone could help us find one,” Kathryn Prout said in a Sunday interview. “We weren’t looking for anything free. I wanted a good deal, reliable — I even said it could be something that needed work, because our son Michael could fix anything. I thought it would be a nice project.”

Larry Jr., who is 16, has dealt with multiple medical issues throughout his young life, including 100 surgeries.

He has been an inspiration to thousands and has been adopted by football teams at Pinckney High School and at the University of Michigan.

Read more about Larry here.

Larry Prout Jr. and Katie DeGrace were both treated by Dr. Ron Hirschl at Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor. Dr. Hirschl has performed the majority of the 100 surgeries Larry has unde
rgone in his 16 years. (Photo by Kathryn Prout)

Enter Katie DeGrace, a nursing student in her senior year at the University of Michigan. She was treated for ovarian cancer at age 10 and has been cancer-free for a decade.

“I met Larry (Jr.) when he was one of my patients in clinical,” she recalled. “He was on the floor I was doing my clinicals on during my junior year.”

Katie became friends with Larry and his parents, and one night last month, when she was performing one of her clinicals with some paramedics, she pulled out her phone.

“I stepped out of the ambulance — we were parked — and I immediately called (Kathy),” Katie said. “I said, ‘Kathy I have this great idea. Let me know what you think.’ It fit perfectly.”

About Katie and her cart

Katie DeGrace had been feeling discomfort for most of the fall of 2006. Her parents took her to a doctor, who referred her to Mott Children’s Hospital. She was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer and immediately underwent surgery.

“There was a family in Frankenmuth that learned of Katie’s situation early on,” said Katie’s father, Chip, who lives there with his wife, Vicki. “They were friends of ours, and the father and son, Jeff and Austin (Monchilov) would frequently work on cars together. Austin was a classmate of Katie’s older sister, Nicole, and he decided he want to do something.

Austin Moncilov, who was 12 at the time, sold a car he had restored to working order and used the money to buy a used golf cart. He and his father got it running and put in a maize and blue color scheme. They presented it to the DeGraces just before Christmas 2006, with the stipulation that, when Katie didn’t need it any more that they give it to someone who did.

In the meantime, Katie said, she and her sister had a blast.

Larry Prout Jr. looks at his family while his new golf cart is being unloaded on Sunday. Behind him, from left, are Vicki DeGrace, Katie DeGrace and Chip DeGrace. (Photo by Tim Robinson)

“We were old enough to ride that and not kill myself or others,” she said, laughing, “but still young enough to have a blast. It was so much fun. We would take all the neighborhood kids and pile as many people as we could on it and drive around the neighborhood.”

Katie had grown close to the Prouts, spending time with Kathryn during Larry Jr.’s 100th surgery over the summer, spending time with him on Valentine’s Day playing video games, and seeing them at U-M football games, where Larry Jr. walks onto the field before and after games to be with his friends on the team.

“He’s got something special about him,” she said. “He’s the five-star recruit that Michigan is lucky to have.”

A ‘no-brainer’

When Katie brought up the idea to her father, his response was immediate.

“It was a no-brainer,” Chip DeGrace said. “Katie is as kind and giving a person as you’ll ever find, and the thought that she was going to give something that was so special to her to someone else, it really warmed my heart.”

The transfer came early Sunday afternoon, when Katie drove up from Ann Arbor and her parents from Frankenmuth. The golf cart had one alteration: Larry Jr.’s name was printed on the left rear bumper, with Katie and Nicole’s names remaining on the right bumper.

After some quick instructions, Larry Jr. got into the driver’s seat and Nicole in the passenger side, and off they went.

Asked if it was everything he thought it would be, Larry said, “Yes. I really loved it.” He admitted to flooring it for short stretches, and he gave his sister, Molly, a ride, as well. They took off and drove behind the Prout home and emerged with Molly in the driver’s seat.

“I gave her a turn to drive,” Larry Jr. said.

The families then ate lunch and talked about their shared experiences at Mott Children’s Hospital over the years. As it turns out, the same surgeon who treated Katie, Dr. Ron Hirschl, has performed the majority of the 100 surgeries that Larry Jr. has undergone.

No shortage of kindness

The golf cart is the latest kindness, but far from the only one.

Larry Jr. is homeschooled, but for two hours a day, he attends Pinckney High School. He can walk, but not for very long, and so he has an electric scooter to help him get around school.

“Getting it out of the car is hard, but getting it in is more difficult,” Kathy Prout says. “So these two football players from Pinckney, Nick (Cain) and Alex (Wasyl), and there was a third who came out sometimes, and they would put the scooter in for me every single time.”

Larry Jr. was at the sidelines for Pinckney football games this season, standing at the head of the line facing the flag for the national anthem.

Pinckney quarterback Jack Wurzer shows the message he put on his helmet this season. The letters are made of bones that players get for outstanding effort. (Photo by Tim Robinson)

“They always put him in the front, and the one in front puts his hands on him to keep him steady,” Kathy said. “Larry has rocker-bottom feet, and it keeps him steady. They help him around and they hold his hand, and it’s not weird or creepy, or anything like that.”

Larry Prout Sr., a special education teacher, says there’s a special kinship among the parents of children at Mott.

“Everyone looks at it as nobody has it worse than anyone else,” he said. “There’s a lot of empathy. We all have roads and we come together. And to take football into it, whether it’s Pinckney football or U-M football, the kids aren’t sympathetic to Larry but empathetic. They want to help. People really do want to help. And they do.”

“With Katelyn (Katie’s given name) and other families, it’s been wonderful,” Larry Sr. continued. “They’re people we never would have met, and places we wouldn’t have been, even if it’s a hospital stay at Johns Hopkins, which you don’t go out there for the best circumstances, and there are wonderful people there as well.”

Jack Wurzer, who was the quarterback on the Pinckney football team, used stickers given for top plays to spell “LARRY GOT EM” across the top of his helmet in a tribute to Larry Jr.

“He resembles toughness and courage, from what all he’s gone through,” he said last week. “Sometimes, people take for granted what they have. You don’t look at guys like these and see what they go through and how much toughness they have.”

Katie DeGrace admits to a little embarrassment about the timing of her gift.

“I have goosebumps right now,” she said Sunday. “I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of it sooner. But it was perfect.”

 

 

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