"It's just a flesh wound," said the bespectacled 12-year-old Brendan Allen of Cranberry -- a wry reference to a Monty Python skit in which a dueling fencer refuses to concede defeat despite the loss of a couple of limbs to his opponent.
Brendan, a new amputee, saw a clip of the skit during a recent birthday party and it stuck with him in light of the fact that he would soon be losing a limb to medical amputation.
Flash forward, and now Brendan is sitting in a wheelchair at the Haine Middle School in Cranberry where the sixth-grader expresses a matter-of-fact view of the 10 surgeries he has sustained in his young life.
The most recent was on April 3, when the leg below his left knee was removed. Brendan's attitude: excitement for the possibility of using a prosthesis that he hopes will allow him to play this summer in the competitive division of the Miracle League, a ball team for special needs kids.
That attitude -- positive, full of humor and forward thinking -- helped him stand out from the hundreds of applicants for famed Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu's student of the month award for April. Each month, Mr. Polamalu picks a student from somewhere across the country to receive the honor -- as well as a big basket full of prizes.
Brendan got the word during an in-school choral concert May 8.
He said it was a "big surprise" and that the "best part was looking out at all the kids standing up and cheering for me."
Indeed, principal Steve Smith said that, across the board, the school's 700 students, its staff and its volunteers, know of Brendan's courage in the face of trial and are inspired by him.
"We only hope that, as educators, we're able to teach Brendan as much as he's taught us about how to live life and face obstacles," Mr. Smith said.
Brendan was diagnosed as an infant with neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that can cause deformation of bones, curvature of the spine and tumors in the brain, on cranial nerves or on the spinal cord.
Brendan's NF caused him to require a leg brace since he was 11 months old. He also has some learning disabilities, said his mother, Dana Allen.
She and her husband, Brian, and their other children, Nolan, 14; Connor, 9; and Kaitlyn, 7, have spent the past 12 years "taking it one day at a time and trying to help Brendan to do as much as he is able to do. We try to have a positive attitude about things."
That spirit has become a part of Brendan's character.
"I'm excited about things getting better. I want to get out of this wheelchair and learn to use my prosthesis so I can walk without limping and run," he said.
Mr. Smith said he recently heard of the Polamalu student of the month award and immediately thought of Brendan.
"He has been an inspiration since the first day he came into the school [as a fifth-grader]. In everything he says and does, it comes through that he only sees the positive in things," Mr. Smith said.
One of his teachers, Ann Tanda, had a hard time keeping the nomination letter to the required 300 words. In part, she wrote: "The inspiration that Brendan shares with everyone is so overwhelming. He looks at this situation as a new chapter in his life that he is excited to get started. He has decided to come back to school next week [only 12 days after surgery] and is ready to get back to normal.
"Brendan is the type of student that you meet once in a lifetime.
"He has taught me so much about accepting things that life gives you and making the best of every opportunity.
"If I could use one word to describe this incredible young man, it would be AMAZING. He is a hero beyond heroes, and is someone that I am so grateful to have touched my life."
Brendan's can-do attitude is expressed daily. Mr. Smith said Brendan had his amputation on a Wednesday and returned to school within days.
Staff was concerned about setting up the lunch table to accommodate Brendan's wheelchair, figuring that a seat on the end would be most helpful.
"But, oh no, Brendan wheeled right up to the middle and hoisted himself out of his chair and into his place. He didn't need or want any special accommodation," Mr. Smith said.
Mrs. Allen said it's the family's practice to seek as few accommodations for Brendan as possible.
"We have always wanted to allow him to do as much as he could do on his own."
"Our students look on him as a role model," Mr. Smith said, referencing the spontaneous joy they felt when it was announced May 8 that Brendan had won the Polamalu award.
In addition to the honor of being picked, Brendan won gifts such as a signed Steelers jersey, headphones, an iPad, a Troy T-shirt, a Steelers hat, a sweatshirt, a watch, a Terrible Towel and a Steelers throw, among other gifts that overflowed a large wicker basket that was presented to him during the choral concert.
Mr. Smith said he couldn't quite see Brendan's reaction to the news of his honor May 8: "I was too teary-eyed - me and just about every other adult in the room!"
Brendan said he remains "really surprised" that he was picked for the award.
"I'm like, 'Oh my God!' Oh, seriously?' Nothing this big has ever happened to be before."
Karen Kane: email@example.com or 724-772-9180. First Published May 16, 2013 4:00 AM