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Touch and go, then triumph

A student with spina bifida inspires peers and faculty with his determination.

Published May 27, 2007


PINELLAS PARK - Nathan Broucinek walked to the small stage at Park Place Wesleyan Church, his leg braces supporting each step.

As Broucinek reached the stairs, high school supervisor Carl Nichols took him by the arm and helped him up onto the small stage. After he received his diploma, Broucinek got a hand exiting the stage from his junior year teacher, Matthew Stephen.

It was a moment his mom, Sharon Broucinek, has waited 18 years to see. "There have been a few times in his life that were touch and go. We were told he'd never graduate, he'd never walk."

Apparently, the youngster never took doctors' messages to heart. On Thursday, he graduated with nine classmates from Community Christian School of Five Oaks in Pinellas Park.

"He has proven to them that he can do it if he just has the right people behind him, " Sharon Broucinek said.

* * *

Broucinek has spina bifida, a congenital birth defect that prohibits the spinal cord from fully closing, which occurs in seven out of every 10, 000 live births in the United States. The Spina Bifida Association estimates that more than 70, 000 Americans suffer from some form of the disorder, which is permanently disabling.

Broucinek suffers from the most severe type of spina bifida, called myelomeningocele, in which the protective covering of the spinal cord and spinal nerves push through the opening of the spine.

For Broucinek, it means living with a shunt in his head that helps drain the excess fluid that collects on his brain. "He's had a lot of surgeries, so many I lost count, " Sharon Broucinek said.

Broucinek relies on his leg braces to help him keep his balance. "Basically, I can't pivot my ankles. I can't wiggle my toes. I can't balance on a regular bike like you guys can, and I don't have feeling in some parts of my feet, " he said.

But Broucinek said he doesn't waste time feeling sorry for himself. "I just don't really notice it. I forget what my feelings are, and I worry about everyone else, " he said.

That's just Nathan, said his mom. "If he knows he needs something, and his sisters need something, he'll give it to them first. Last week, he had $5 in his wallet, and he gave it to a man on the street, " she said.

Sharon Broucinek said her son's appetite for life has pushed him forward. "He doesn't want to sit around. He wants to let other kids know there are people out there who will work with you. Just keep fighting. Don't give up, " she said.

* * *

Broucinek attended the Broach School and Tyrone Middle School, and went through the Pinellas County School District's hospital homebound program before he landed at Community Christian School his junior year.

"None of the kids (at CCS) picked on him. They welcomed him in as one of their classmates, " said Sharon Broucinek.

Teacher Keith Stephen said Broucinek has been an inspiration to students and faculty alike because of his courage and determination.

"He was in the hospital several times throughout the year, but he plugged right along, " Keith Stephen said.

Broucinek earned the respect of his classmates as a teacher's aide. "He's a friendly, all-around good kid, " Keith Stephen said. "I just want to cry inside to see he's graduating."

Broucinek said he wants to go to Pinellas Technical Education Centers to study computers. He credits his mom and dad, Viktor, for his successes.

"I couldn't do a lot of stuff without the guidance of my parents, " he said.

But Sharon Broucinek gave praise to Community Christian School staff and students, who supported Nathan as he completed the last part of his high school journey. "It's just having God on your side, " she said, "and the right people behind you with a positive attitude."

[Last modified May 26, 2007, 18:34:33]

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