By Starrla Cray
NEW GERMANY, MN Nine-year-old Joey Engeldinger of New Germany was born with a chromosomal abnormality, but he doesn’t worry about that.
Instead, the life of this grinning, brown-eyed, bundle of energy is brimming with thoughts of roller coasters, toys, and sports.
This year, he tried golf for the first time, and won a silver medal in the Special Olympics state tournament in Oakdale.
“He has a sweet little swing,” said his coach, Andrea Sanocki. “He is fun to coach. He always brings a positive attitude and is willing to try anything we ask him.”
Joey’s parents, Joe and Karla Engeldinger, jokingly call their son “Happy Gilmore.”
“He’s really a goofball,” Joe said. “He’s a big-time showoff.”
On the golf course, Joey, also known as Little Joe, can be seen doing little dances and giving high-fives.
“If I could just get him to concentrate a little more, he could really go,” Joe said.
Joey’s team, Wild West, consists mostly of adults from Carver and Hennepin counties.
Ages 8 and older are eligible for Special Olympics, and this Joey’s first year participating.
“He’s the youngest one on the crew, that’s for sure,” Joe said.
Joey, who will be entering third grade at Watertown-Mayer Elementary School, also enjoys playing hockey and baseball on regular teams at school.
“He’s so gung ho,” Joe said. “He’s so sports-minded.”
Joey tried running track through Special Olympics last spring, but was unable to compete in the state meet because he had his tonsils removed.
Several bouts of strep throat leading to a tonsillectomy is just one of the many health challenges Joey has faced due to his chromosomal abnormality, mosaic trisomy 8.
According to Healthline’s website, trisomy 8 is defined as the presence of three full copies of chromosome 8.
Mosaic trisomy 8 is when only a portion of a person’s cells contain three copies of chromosome 8, while others contain the usual two copies of that chromosome.
“People who have the full trisomy 8 don’t survive,” Karla said.
Although most people with chromosomal abnormalities are diagnosed as babies, doctors weren’t able to pinpoint Joey’s condition until he was 5.
“When he was born, he came out face down with the cord wrapped around his neck. It wasn’t tight though,” Joe said. “He was really quiet. He didn’t make a sound for about 20 minutes.”
As a baby, Joey wasn’t a strong eater, and weighed only 17 pounds by his first birthday.
“The doctors were like, ‘we have to do something. He’s too small,’” Karla recalled.
At that point, Joey underwent chromosomal testing, but initial results were inconclusive.
At this time, the family was living near the airport in Minneapolis. Their house was designed to block the airplane noise, but playing outside was difficult for Joey.
“Loud noises really bothered him when he was younger,” Karla said, explaining that he would cover his ears and cry.
In 2004, the Engeldingers moved to a country home in northern Minnesota, so that Joey and his older brother, Nick, could have room to roam.
However, Joey was sick often, and the family had to make numerous trips to the Twin Cities.
“In one year, we put on 11,000 medical miles,” Joe said. “For as many trips as we made, it really wasn’t feasible.”
So, in 2008, the family moved to the house where Karla grew up, in Mayer, and later relocated to a nine-acre country property in rural New Germany.
Living with trisomy 8
That same year, Joey became ill, and had to have 14 inches removed from his small intestine.
In his nine short years of life, Joey has also undergone eye, heart, and oral surgeries.
He has been to Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis three times in the past year.
Joey has a cleft palette, and does not like having anything in his mouth. This has made dentistry especially difficult.
“At first, we had to hold him down to brush his teeth,” Karla said.
Now, they’ve found that a musical toothbrush helps Joey stay focused and he’s able to brush on his own.
Joey isn’t a big eater, and only weighs 49 to 52 pounds.
“He should be 70 to 75 pounds,” Joe said.
To help him gain weight, Joey has a feeding tube at night.
“That’s the best time to do it,” Karla said. “In the daytime, he’s just too active.”
Golf and roller coasters
About the only time Joey likes to sit still is when he’s watching golf. Joey’s parents said they think that’s one of the reasons he learned to play the game so quickly.
“He’ll actually watch golf on TV,” Karla said.
Coach Sanocki said she was impressed by Joey’s pitch shot, which is when the ball has a steep ascent and steep descent.
“That is a really hard one because they have to get it over a barrier,” Sanocki said. “I would say 90 percent of the shots on this one just hit the barrier.”
But, not Joey’s.
“Three out of five balls made it over, which is incredible,” Sanocki said.
“He did really well in competition,” Joe agreed. “We were just totally blown away.”
Typically, it’s tough for Joey to concentrate longer than 10 minutes, but golf seems to help his focus.
“The last day of practice, we probably did about 60 shots,” Joe said. “He would have kept going, too. We were just running out of time.”
Joey and his dad spend as much time chipping as possible, but Joey’s favorite is driving.
“I like to hit the ball really hard,” he said.
Joey also gets excited about fair rides.
“He was tall enough to go on his first roller coaster this year,” Karla said.
“I went on the High Roller,” Joey said. “It’s really scary.”
This fall, Joey plans to try bowling through Special Olympics, and he’s already asking his mom about football.
Although he’s involved in special education and is smaller than other children his age, Joey continues to show promise for a bright future.
“He’s still learning; it’s just at his own pace,” Karla said.
To learn more about Special Olympics Minnesota, click here.