Nick Santonastasso has one arm equipped with one finger. That’s it. His right arm ends in a stump a couple of inches from his shoulder. He has no legs. He also has no limitations.
“I know anything’s possible,” the remarkable 12-year-old told TODAY’s Ann Curry Tuesday in New York.
Videos of Nick playing baseball and football, doing a headstand on his skateboard, playing the keyboard and drums, typing on a computer, helping in the kitchen and playing video games with his siblings were proof he’s right.
“My parents just keep encouraging me to do stuff — like, don’t give up and keep trying. If you fall down, get back up,” he said in explaining why he attacks life with such gusto.
When Nick’s mother Stacey was pregnant with him, doctors told her that he would be born “fragile.” He was diagnosed with Hanhart Syndrome Type II, a rare genetic disorder identified in only 11 other people.
The Santonastassos, who live in New Jersey, had three other children, and they resolved to treat Nick the same as their other children, with love but without excuses.
“We didn’t treat him any different than any of our other children,” his father Michael said. Even so, he’s impressed with just how normal his son is. “We’re supposed to be heroes to our children, but Nick is a hero to us. He’s proved to be a real trouper, and our hero.”
But heroes have heroes, too, and Nick’s is Tiki Barber, the former star running back of the New York Giants who retired last year and became a correspondent for TODAY. Curry told Nick, who was wearing a Tiki Barber jersey, that for his birthday, which was May 20, the show wanted to give him a new skateboard. The person who presented it to him in the studio was Barber.
“Nick, you’re an inspiration,” read the inscription Barber had written on the board along with his autograph.
Nick’s eyes filled with tears of joy as Barber sat down next to him. “You’re an inspiration,” Barber repeated. “There are a lot of kids who might be at a disadvantage,” he added. “You give them strength. You really do.”
“Absolutely not,” Stacey Santonastasso said. “If you do have a small failure, it just makes you stronger to succeed at the next stop. It just makes you stronger and want to accomplish more.”
“It builds self-confidence in yourself to try it again,” Nick added. “And you’ll be happy and succeed and not fail.”
Threw away prosthetics
At an early age, his parents had him fitted with prosthetic legs and a prosthetic right arm, but Nick threw them away, finding they limited his mobility instead of enhancing it. He’s mainstreamed at school and gets good grades. His only concession to his lack of limbs is to ride a wheelchair between classes in school. But at home, he scampers around the house using just his arm.
Recently, Nick entered a drawing in a statewide contest in New Jersey on the theme of family values. His entry was a tree with a spreading canopy and deep roots. Above the tree were the words, “The roots of a family are ….”
Below the ground, the roots spelled out the final word of the message: “Love.”
The poster won the contest, and Nick got to meet N.J. Gov. John Corzine. The contest judges were unaware of Nick’s physical condition. He won on merit, the same way he does everything else in life.
“He has no boundaries,” said his mother. “He’s just a happy kid. You want to be around him, because it’s always fun.”