For most young people, falling means a bruise or scratch. For Kaleb Sydloski, it often means a broken bone and surgery. The severity of Kaleb’s osteogenesis imperfecta first became clear to him during a second-grade trip to the roller rink.
“I fell down and I broke my leg,” Kaleb said. “I had to have surgery a week later and spent months recovering and healing. I realized I had to be more careful.”
Osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease, is a group of genetic disorders that mainly affect the bones. It sometimes includes bone deformities and results in bones that fracture or break easily — sometimes for no apparent reason.
“If my friends want to play football or something like that, that’s something I can’t do,” Kaleb said. “I have to be a lot more responsible.”
Kaleb’s mom and brother also have the condition.
“My family knows what I’m going through but they don’t treat me like I’m fragile or going to break,” he said. “They’re my rock.”
When Kaleb was in sixth grade, he missed half the year of school because of surgery complications, and also missed three months of freshman year following leg surgery.
He said one of the most frustrating things about it is how others see him.
“People think that if they just touch my arm, I’m going to shatter. I work hard just like everyone else, and I work to be the best that I can no matter if it’s harder.”
A Focus on Music
Despite the physical risks, Kaleb has participated in high school tennis and swimming, and found his true passion as a musician.
“Band is very important to me. It’s something that I can do that is the same for everyone,” he said. “I’m just another student in the group.”
Kaleb’s interest in music came from a place of frustration in the beginning, he said.
“It was a way to express myself through something that I could do without having to worry,” he said. “When I started with music, it just made sense; I was comfortable.”
Kaleb said he learned a lot about himself while participating in band, playing the baritone all four years and guitar in jazz band since he was a sophomore.
“This has been the year that I have been trying to really prove people wrong,” he said. “People think that I’m weak, but I want to show that that’s not true.”
Kaleb works out, lifting weights and working on flexibility at home, to build muscle.
“People will ask my mom why she doesn’t just keep me inside … What they don’t seem to understand is that I am a normal person who wants a normal life.”
Without all my health issues, I probably wouldn’t be the strong student that I am with the future that I have. — Kaleb Sydloski
After more than 10 surgeries and countless broken bones, Kaleb said he tries to look at the positive side of things.
“Having all this time where I was recovering allowed me to study independently and really get a grip on my coursework,” he said. “As weird as it sounds, without all my health issues, I probably wouldn’t be the strong student that I am with the future that I have.”
Kaleb will start at Kalamazoo College in the fall, where he plans to major in psychiatry and minor in music.
His interest in psychiatry came from a stutter he had as a child, something he has worked to correct.
“I want to learn about the mind and why it does things the way that it does,” Kaleb said. “I think once I can learn about that, it can help me and then I can help others going through things like a stutter or a problem, because it takes its toll on you.”
He has spoken at school assemblies and while volunteering about his struggles and determination.
“I feel like everything that I’ve been through, everything that has happened to me, has been prepping me for the future,” he said. “I have a drive to prove myself that I may not have had without my struggles; it’s a nice way to think about it.”
He plans to join a college jazz band in Kalamazoo and continue to challenge himself academically.
“I’ve gone through some very difficult things, and I want to help others be able to get through any problems that they have,” Kaleb said. “I’ve lived with this my entire life; I don’t know anything else so there’s no point in me being sad and feeling sorry for myself.”
Though he’ll be moving away, he said Thornapple Kellogg will always be a very special place.
“I’ll miss the people I’ve met, the supportive teachers, and my friends that I’m really close to,” he said. “I didn’t do this alone.”