At birth his eyes were almost on the sides of his head. He had only holes where his nose was supposed to be, a club foot, two fingers on his right hand, a cleft palate. But his mother’s lesson, “Never give up!” bolstered Michael through dozens of surgeries and inspired him to find his true calling: teaching.
by Michael Biasini
New contributor to the Gazette
October 1, 2008
Reprinted by permission of Michael Biasini (c) 1998, from A 6th Bowl of Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen.
The year was 1963.
That's when I was born... to "perfectly normal" parents at a "perfectly normal" Cleveland hospital.
I would like to say that I was a "perfectly normal," healthy baby, ready to take on the world. But instead, I was born with multiple deformities. My eyes were almost on the sides of my head, and I only had holes where my nose was supposed to be. I had a club foot and was missing all but one toe, if it could be called that. Also, three of my fingers were missing on my right hand. A cleft palate had an opening in my top lip and extended all the way to the right eye.
Unfortunately, even one leg was shorter than the other.
The hospital staff, I was told, thought I had too many problems to survive. The doctors, in fact, refused to show me to my parents and, incredulously, even gave my parents forms to sign to "give me up for science."
I can only thank God that my parents had other plans for my life. I belonged to them and to God. They intended to love and accept me just as I was, despite acknowledging that it would be a long, hard road ahead.
At the age of seven months, I began to undergo a very long series of operations. However, the first seven were deemed failures. The surgeons, it seemed, were trying to do too much at once. I, on the other hand, was like a puzzle that needed to be "put together" one piece at a time.
While successive surgeries were a little more successful, my appearance was still far from normal. In fact, very few people knew that I had already had sixteen operations by the time I was ready for third grade.
When I began kindergarten, I was placed in a special-education classroom because my appearance and imperfect speech were not accepted. Aside from being labeled a "special-ed" kid, I endured constant ridicule from other students who called me "stupid," "ugly" and "retarded" because of my looks. I also walked with a limp and had to wear special shoes and braces on my legs. I spent almost every school holiday in the hospital having operations and also missed a lot of school. I wondered if I would ever get out of special classes. My desire to become a "normal" child prompted my parents to pursue tests that would place me back in regular education classrooms. My parents and I worked very hard that summer to get ready for the big test. Finally, I was tested.
I'll never forget the day I waited outside the principal's office while my parents received my test results. The brown door between them and me seemed to loom bigger and bigger as time went by. Time passed in slow motion. I longed to put my ear to the door to hear what was being said.
After an hour passed, my mother finally emerged with a tear streaming down her cheek. I thought, “Oh, no, another year in special-ed.” But much to my relief, the principal put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Welcome to 3B, young man!" My mom gave me a big hug.
Another milestone in fourth grade was the "miracle" that my parents and I had longed for. I was selected to undergo a very experimental surgery that would resculpt my entire face with bone grafts. The surgery was life-threatening and lasted ten hours. I survived this operation, my eighteenth, which really changed my life. At last, my nose had a shape, my lip was "fixed" and my eyes were very close to being in their normal position.
While I now faced a new chapter in my life from a physical perspective, I hadn't seen the end of my trials.
Within the next few years, my mother developed cancer and died, but not before instilling in me a sense of worth and the determination never to give up.
When other kids called me names, she had prompted, "Don't let those names bother you. Feel sorry for those kids who were not brought up right."
In addition, my parents taught me to be thankful for my blessings, pointing out that other people might have even greater challenges.
Their words eventually impacted my life when I did see people with greater challenges - in hospitals and whenever I did volunteer work with children who were mentally challenged.
As a teenager, I came to realize that my purpose in life was to help others become successful with whatever gifts they were blessed with, despite the things that society might point out as handicaps or shortcomings. In fact, my father advised, "Mike, you would make a great special-ed teacher." I knew what it was like to be a special-ed child.
However, I simply wasn't ready to make teaching my career choice at that point. Instead, I earned a degree in business and went on to become a very successful salesman, spending seven years in retail management. Then, I went on to become a very successful bank employee, spending five years as a loan officer. Still, something in my life was missing.
Despite the fact that I had met and married a special-ed teacher, it took me twelve years to realize that was my calling also and that my dad had been right.
Continuing my college education, pursuing a master's degree in education, I now teach in the same school district as my wife.
My classroom is a kaleidoscope of children with special needs - emotional, physical and mental. My newest career choice is my most challenging yet. I love to see my students' smiling faces when they learn something new, when a few words are spoken and when an award is won in the Special Olympics.
I've now gone through twenty-nine surgeries. While many have brought a lot of pain to my life, the fact that I have survived them all only seems to reiterate to me that God has a purpose for my life, as well as for every other life. I see my purpose being fulfilled one child at a time.
I may not have been a "perfectly normal" healthy baby, but I am ready to take on the world - thanks to God and to people like my mom. The motto she gave me will always be the motto I use in my own classroom: Never give up.