Persevering with SMA through faith and dimpled smiles
This is Andrew Cherico’s story:
Hello! I am 19 years old and from New York City. SMA has affected my life in ways I never imagined, whether it be positively or negatively, but I never lost faith and I certainly never lost my smile.
Around age 2, my parents observed that I frequently fell while trying to stand or walk. At 2 and a half years old, I was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy type 3.
On my first day of kindergarten, I already felt out of place. I couldn’t run as fast as other kids or throw as far, and so was excluded from games and practically outcast at recess, everyone’s favorite period but definitely not mine. I made friends from time to time who included me in games, and that kept me smiling.
Growing up without the amazing SMA treatments available today, my SMA worsened. I became nonambulatory at age 9, and my self-esteem was at its lowest. Every smile had some pain behind it. Through many years of surgeries, I was ashamed of my disability, and a part of me truly hated my wheelchair.
In eighth grade, I was speaking with my middle school counselor about high school and the big steps required to be successful there. At home that day, I realized that my disability is never going to change, and I needed to embrace it. That’s exactly what I did: Instead of separating myself from my wheelchair, I allowed it to become a part of me.
This realization opened more doors than I could’ve ever imagined. I went to high school with newfound confidence. My socialization skills improved, my grades dramatically increased and, overall, I was happy with myself. Every time I smiled, there was no self-hatred — and that was new, but it always felt great.
I graduated as class salutatorian. I’ve experienced many amazing opportunities, such as being a member of the National Honor Society and advocating for disability funding at the capitol building in New York, meeting celebrities and people who inspired me. I recently moved to Orlando to attend the University of Central Florida, where I am a sophomore majoring in sports journalism in the hope of becoming a broadcaster/analyst.
Reflecting on my life, I have experienced more ups and downs than the average person. But one thing is certain — my smile never left, and my dimple always appeared.
In recognition of Spinal Muscular Atrophy Awareness Month in August, the SMA Community Spotlight campaign features a series of stories highlighting the real-life experiences of people affected by SMA, written in their own words. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more stories like this, using the hashtag #SMASpotlight, or read the full series.
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