In the one-bedroom Plantation apartment that he and his mother call home, 7-year-old Nathanial Brazelton greets a visitor in a blaze of energy. He busts out breakdance moves on the living-room floor, then, without warning, initiates a game of tag and darts into the bedroom.
“Good luck trying to keep up with him,” said his mom, Rose Augustin.
Nathanial’s spirited agility is especially impressive considering that he has been paralyzed from his chest down since he was 11 days old.
Unable to move his legs, Nathanial has developed almost superhuman arm strength and hand-eye coordination. He loves to shoot hoops from his wheelchair, and his mom is considering signing him up for a Miracle League baseball team for children with special needs.
Being unable to walk doesn’t detract Nathanial from his intense desire to learn.
A second-grader, he looks forward to his teacher Carol Kedzierski’s math lessons at Peters Elementary. He said he’ll put his math skills to good use when he grows up and becomes “a businessman – what else?” (He went through a recent phase of insisting on wearing a tie to school every day.)
Nathanial’s mom maintains a sunny disposition, even though life as a single mother with a special-needs child has been anything but cheery.
“I’ve learned to put on a smile, even when I don’t feel that way inside,” Augustin said. “I have to be strong, for him.”
Days after Nathanial’s birth in February 2006, doctors discovered a congenital heart defect. The condition required open-heart surgery, but the procedure damaged the infant’s spinal cord, paralyzing him.
More procedures followed – Nathanial underwent a cardiac catheterization and bowel surgery before he was two months old – and facing the long road of hospitalizations and doctor visits proved too much for Nathanial’s father to handle. He left his wife and son after Nathanial’s first birthday; child-support checks that used to come irregularly have all but stopped, Augustin said.
Augustin was laid off four years ago from her job selling timeshare vacation rentals. She recently found part-time work as a bank teller, but scraping together money for everyday expenses – keeping her phone service on, putting gas in her car, buying groceries – is a constant struggle.
Big-ticket items like a wheelchair-accessible van, an iPad for Nathanial to read on, a replacement for her moldy mattress, and fixing her car’s A/C and worn-down tires seem far out of reach.
Augustin is her son’s best friend and biggest advocate. She empties Nathanial’s external bladder six times a day. She stands up for him when other kids tease him about wearing diapers, and she visits the school office when he’s been excluded from a game of kickball at recess.
Nathanial has physical therapy or doctor appointments nearly every day after school. Most of his treatment is covered by Medicaid. Augustin has taken him to every appointment, watching his charts grow thicker than dictionaries.
All of her efforts leave little time for friends or dating.
She has siblings who live in the area, but, she said, “they have their own lives and can’t have me depending on them.” She is collegial with her co-workers, but Augustin is a private person and doesn’t share much with them about her life.
“My phone doesn’t ring anymore,” Augustin said from her couch, Nathanial’s head planted in her lap. “It’s just the two of us.”
They get some support from Angel’s Pediatric Heart House in Plantation, which provides financial assistance to families with children who are hospitalized for heart problems. The group also hosts social outings that allow families in those situations to interact.
Angel’s House founder Sonia Perez said she nominated Nathanial for Wish Book because “he is a survivor” and because of Augustin’s compelling work ethic.
“She is a really wonderful mom,” Perez said. “She loves her child unconditionally and tries to do everything she can to keep them afloat. She also works very hard to give Nathanial the most regular childhood he can have.”
Wish Book readers could help give Nathanial and his mom a memorable holiday season.
As they prepared for Thanksgiving, Nathanial bounded to the refrigerator to show off a turkey that was given to the family. A magnet on the refrigerator door held up a painting he made for his mom:
“I made you some pretty flowers with my finger and my thumb, so you will have these memories for years to come.”