nickGiangrecoWhen Nick Giangreco suffered a massive stroke at a St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute football game, a doctor gave him a 1 percent chance of surviving. Now, three years later, Nick is not only alive but thriving. The 17-year-old is taking three Advanced Placement courses and a fourth college-level course in his senior year at St. Joe’s. He’s president of the school’s Philosophy Club and helps younger students as both a tutor and a “big brother.” Nick studies five hours a day, is learning Italian outside of school and last quarter earned a 97.9 average.

“I just do my very best every day,” he said. “That’s really all you can ask of yourself. Your best is your best.”

Three years ago, Nick was fighting for his life after suffering a severe stroke while on the bench at a St. Joe’s freshman football game. Nick was hospitalized for three months and at one point was in an induced coma, was on a ventilator, had pneumonia and a temperature of 105. After beating heavy odds by merely surviving, he regained the ability to swallow, eat, walk and talk with the help of extensive therapy and unwavering determination.

Nick, who lives in Clarence, has limited movement in his left arm and leg but gets around unaided and can drive with a device that allows him to use one hand. He is allowed five-minute rest breaks during lengthy exams and uses the elevator at St. Joe’s when necessary. But his capabilities far outweigh his limitations. Over the summer, the former soccer, baseball, tennis and football player tackled 90 minutes of rigorous cardiovascular exercise every day, followed by weight training. Now, he does boxing exercises to strengthen his arm.

“Nick’s my mentor and hero,” said Nick’s father Paul. “He has taught me a lot about adversity. I feel thankful he’s alive. I call him Miracle Man.”

Nick credits his family, parents Paul and Sharon and younger siblings Maria and Marc, and his other relatives and friends with encouraging him during the dark times.

“I couldn’t fall back because they were always there,” he said. “I was always trying to do better and better and better.”

But Nick lives in the present and the future, and he doesn’t dwell on what he’s been through.

“I don’t live in the past,” he said. “I know it’s there, but I try to stay focused on where I am now. I wish I could play sports. I wish I could do more. But I’m content with what I have.”

Over the summer, Nick volunteered at Erie County Medical Center, talking with stroke and head injury patients in the same unit he was in.

“You go back and you’re helping others rather than you being helped,” he said. “That’s a different perspective. I said: Here I was three years ago, in the same situation they were in. I just wanted to help out.”

Determined to graduate with his class at St. Joe’s (and he will) Nick poured his energies into academics and raised his average substantially.

“I just boosted up,” he said. “I love education. I love learning. I really got into it. I hadn’t realized my full potential.”

Nick regularly attends St. Joe’s sporting events, is involved in recycling activities, never seeks special consideration and is “one of the guys,” said Robert T. Scott, St. Joe’s principal and president.

“Maybe it isn’t politically correct to say this these days, but seeing Nick walk down the hallway makes you believe in God all over again,” Scott said. “This is a story of courage and determination. I’m so proud of this young man.”

Education and life have taken on a deeper meaning for Nick.

“I’m aware now of what can happen,” he said. “I’m not just doing things. I’m doing them and reflecting on them.”

Nick has visited 21 colleges in four states and is particularly interested in the University of Rochester. His career plans remain fluid, but, swayed by his own experiences, Nick is attracted to both philosophy and neuroscience.

“I like studying about the mind a lot, how people think and how behavior is influenced by the brain,” he said.

Nick’s recovery is drawing considerable public attention. He was the grand marshal of the Italian-American Columbus Day Parade on Saturday, October 10th and will be honorary captain of the St. Joe’s freshman football team at its October 22nd game against Clarence.

Now, Nick is looking ahead to graduation, to college, and to life. Paul Giangreco left his job as a vice president of Sysco Food Services shortly after his son’s stroke so he and his wife could give Nick the attention he needed. Now, with Nick becoming increasingly independent, Paul Giangreco has started a new career as a supplemental health insurance agent. That was after Nick told him: “Dad, I think it’s time for you to move on.”

adapted from “The Buffalo News” Oct. 5th 2009
article Teen Stroke Victim Learns from Adversity written by Peter Simon, News Staff Reporter