By Wendy Grossman
September 28, 2009 12:00 PM

Bill Hansbury, 71, & Jake Bainter, 9

St. Petersburg and Orlando, Fla.

The night before her son’s surgery, Jodi Bainter stared at the ceiling and prayed. “Are we doing the right thing?” she asked silently. “Send me a sign.”

In a horrifying 2004 accident, Jake’s dad, Brett, had backed into Jake with a riding lawn mower, nearly severing his son’s right leg. Fifteen surgeries later, Jake often required a wheelchair. Hoping a prosthetic would give him a chance at a normal life, the Bainters drove Jake to the hospital on Feb. 19, 2008, to have the damaged limb amputated.

So it seemed a sign indeed when, from the SUV, Jake spotted Bill Hansbury—an avid cyclist who just four months earlier had lost half his leg to a staph infection. Pulling over, the family shared Jake’s story. Bill kissed Jake on the head and said, “If I can do it, you can.”

He soon became Jake’s chief coach and cheerleader, visiting him in the hospital, accompanying him on doctor visits and demonstrating how his own leg worked. “Bill,” Jodi says, “gave Jake hope.” Today Jake plays dodgeball, rides his scooter and runs, having recently finished a 5-km race with his gray-haired pal. “Bill supports me—he’s my friend,” Jake says. Adds Bill: “Jake’s spirit amazes me. I just love this boy.”