Without Legs or Arm, Boy, 12, Thrives

Nick Santonastasso was born without legs and with only one arm and one finger.

ByEmily Friedman

May 12, 2008 — -- Nick Santonastasso is a pretty talented kid: He can play the drums and the piano, has mastered two types of skateboards and is learning how to swim. And in April, Nick won a New Jersey art contest for a poster he drew.

And while these may all sound like typical accomplishments for a 12-year-old boy, Nick is special for other reasons.

Born without legs and with only one arm and one finger, Nick says he can do everything other kids his age can do.

"I'm capable of what everyone else is," Nick told ABCNEWS.com.

When asked how he skateboards with no legs, Nick replied simply, "I just jump on."

Nick is only the 12th person to be born with oromandibular limb hypogenesis syndrome or Hanhart syndrome type II, according to his mother, Stacey Santonastasso. She said doctors explained to her that the condition is not genetic or environmental, and just simply "happens."

Santonastasso found out about her son's condition while she was still pregnant with him and told ABCNEWS.com that her doctors had a "grim" prediction for her son's future.

"Nick didn't have any of the afflictions that the doctors thought he would other than the physical stuff," said Santonastasso. "[They said] he'd be on feeding and breathing tubes and have organ failure."

Nick, who is expected to live a full life, is otherwise perfectly healthy.

"Where we thought we'd have huge issues we did not," said Santonastasso, who also has three older children. "The biggest fear I had was that we wouldn't know how to do the right things for him, but basically my husband and I just said 'we're going to love him like our other children.'"

"We take it one day at a time," said Santonastasso.

Simple, everyday tasks are definitely a bit more complicated for Nick, but the family said there has yet to be anything he cannot do.

To eat, Nick uses a spoon made for people with arthritis that wraps around his arm.

To run, he uses his one arm to scoot his body forward.

And while learning to swim, he does what every other kid does and uses floaties to give him buoyancy.

At one point, Nick's parents gave him prosthetic legs, but they have since been abandoned; Nick moves faster without them.

"Where there's a will there's a way ,and Nick's got more than enough will," said Santonastasso.

Nick will spend his upcoming 13th birthday May 20 at the New Jersey governor's mansion being honored for a poster he drew in a statewide competition intended to promote family values.

Chosen from more than 100 finalists, Nick's drawing shows a tree with roots spelling out the word "love."

"It says what makes family strong is deep rooted love," Nick explained.

And love, said Santonastasso, and their faith in God, is what helped the family get through the toughest days.

"We would get some looks and stares." said Santonastasso of trips to the store with her son. "When he was younger and I didn't know he'd be able to accomplish so much [I'd get down] when I'd see other children running around and think 'Wow, I wonder how he's going to fare.'

"But I would have to say we've had more good days than bad as time goes on," said Santonastasso.

Nick has a lot of friends -- and even a few of the female variety -- said his mom, and he attends a regular public school.

"Nobody is mean, nobody teases me," said Nick of his peers, adding that he's getting A's and B's in his sixth grade classes.

He has a good sense of humor, too.

"One time I told my mom that I thought I had broken my ankle and she flipped out," said Nick, giggling. "I was like, 'calm down!'"

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