.- Friday canât come soon enough for Alejandro Pabon. Thatâs when heâll be fitted for his new leg prosthetics at Shriners Hospital for Children in Philadelphia â almost 4 months later than anticipated.
Pabon, 16, known as âAlex,â or âDroâ by classmates from St. Markâs High School in Wilmington, Delaware has Grebes Salgado Syndrome, a type of short-limbed dwarfism that affects less than 1 percent of the population.
Although his arms and hands are completely functional, Pabon typically relies on his prosthetic legs to get around. A surgery last November, called a âSymesâ amputation, intended to help improve his mobility and posture, removed part of both Pabonâs feet, leaving him to use a wheelchair until his limbs heal completely.
As a junior, Pabon enrolled at St. Markâs in 2006 when his father, Hiram, an engineer at AstraZeneca, relocated the family to Delaware from Puerto Rico.
âHigh school was different in the United States,â Pabon said. âI went from a class of less than 100 to a class with more than 400 students. Plus the lunches here cost a lot more money.â
But he quickly adjusted to St. Markâs; he was active in the chess club and the game and strategy club. And, said Susan Vavala, Pabonâs guidance counselor at St. Markâs, he surrounded himself with friends right away.
âHis difference isnât about his disability but itâs his ability to draw people to him wherever he goes,â she said.
âI feel just like everyone else because thatâs how my parents raised me,â Pabon said.
Pabon grew up in Guayama, Puerto Rico, with his family, which also includes his 10-year-old sister, Karina. Pabonâs mother, Ivelis, describes her sonâs childhood as âjust like everyone elseâs. He could do what every other kid did â ride bikes, swim, play ball â his activities were just modified to suit him,â she said.
âDonât forget playing Xbox,â Karina said. âAlex is always playing Xbox.â
When Alex was born, his parents researched his disease at the College of Medicine at the University of Puerto Rico. Their findings eventually led them to seek treatment from a clinic in Puerto Rico which provides free care to children.
âWeâve been working with Shriners [Hospital] since Alex was very young,â Hiram said. âThey truly want to provide children with a means to live.â
Faith has also helped the Pabon family. âItâs very important,â Ivelis said. âIf you donât have faith youâre not going anywhere.â
Alex agrees. âFaith helped me get to this point,â he said. âI had my surgery on a Tuesday, left the hospital on a Friday and made it to church on Sunday in my bright yellow casts.â
Still, Pabon is grateful he had the surgery done. Itâs going to help him achieve one of his most important goals. âI want to be walking when I get to college,â he said.
This fall, Pabon will attend the University of Delaware, where he will study criminal justice. He hopes to become a lawyer. âHeâs great at arguing,â said his mother.
Vavala couldnât be more proud of Pabon for working hard, keeping his grades up and getting into college.
Earlier this month, Pabon received the Rachael M. Ali award for âquiet leadership, excellence of character and devotion to St. Markâs High Schoolâ at this yearâs commencement ceremony. Ali, an assistant principal and charter faculty member of St. Markâs, died of cancer in 2000.
âTo win that award is quite a big deal,â said Vavala.
Sheâs sad to see him go. âIâll miss him so much next year. Heâs a mentor to everyone. Heâs never once tried to make people feel sorry for himâ¦Itâs been a joy to know him. Heâs an inspiration. Heâs my hero.â
Printed with permission from The Dialog, the weekly newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington in Delaware.