Puma family thankful as daughter continues to make strides

April Helms
Kent Weeklies
Tessa Puma stands outside Center Stage Dance Studio in Northfield Village.

NORTHFIELD CENTER – While this year’s Thanksgiving will be more quiet than in years past, the Puma family still has much to be grateful for.

“We are only having a few people over at our house,” said Matt Puma. “We have an in-law suite, my mom and dad live with us. So we are just going to have them over. Nothing too crazy.”

Tessa Puma, a fourth-grader at Northfield Elementary School, said one highlight of Thanksgiving for her is a special tablecloth the family uses.

“We can color on it, and I like that,” said Tessa, who turned 10 in October. “There are turkeys and word searches.”

Tessa said she also likes helping make Thanksgiving dinner, especially the desserts such as pies and cheesecake.

“I’m grateful for my family, my friends, and my dogs,” Tessa added.

As the year continues, one challenge Tessa said she will face: “I’m getting a new leg. I keep growing.”

Read: Young dancer doesn't let leg amputation slow her down

In March 2017, when Tessa was 6 years old, she became very ill when a strep infection entered her bloodstream, causing an infection and flesh-eating bacteria called necrotising fasciitis. The infection spread through her body quickly, and doctors at Akron Children’s Hospital gave her a 20% chance of survival, according to information from her family. Tessa underwent more than a dozen surgeries, including a leg amputation and skin grafts. A dancer who started dancing competitively at age 5,  the youngest member to make the competitive team at Center Stage dance studio in Northfield Village, Tessa had to relearn how to walk with a prosthetic.

Tessa not only relearned how to walk, but how to dance. A few weeks after receiving her first prosthetic leg in August of 2017 she started to dance again. Tessa formed a trio that season with two of her best friends Caleb and Gaven, whom she has been dancing with since she was 5. In 2018, the trio went to competitions in Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania and won first place platinum awards in their category. They also went to a national dance competition in Tennessee that year and were named first place overall. In addition, the three went to Las Vegas to perform at the Rio Hotel in 2019 for her prosthetic company’s yearly convention.

The Akron Marathon Race Series named Tessa an #ACHero in 2018. 

This year, Tessa was highlighted in an episode of Little Big Shots, a television series on NBC, hosted by Melissa McCarthy. The episode aired in April.

Tessa said she would love to continue dancing. Matt added that they hoped there will be more competitions.

“At the end of last season, we only had one competition,” Matt said.

“The first competition was supposed to have been in March,” Tina added.

Matt Puma said that whenever Tessa receives a new prosthetic, she needs additional physical therapy “to retrain the muscles as she grows.”

Tina said that this will be Tessa’s third socket.

“But she’s getting through it,” Tina said.

Reporter April Helms can be reached at ahelms@thebeaconjournal.com