As Posted at: http://westcountyjournal.stltoday.com
By Mary Shapiro August, 2008
David Grassi isn’t fazed by some national recognition he’s getting.
A senior at Marquette High School, David, 17, made a surprise appearance last month at the Shriners’ annual international convention at America’s Center in downtown St. Louis.
David, born with spina bifida, is among local young people featured in the Shriners Hospitals for Children patient success video, called “Defying the Odds,” to be shown across the country.”It felt pretty cool,” said David, who lives in Ballwin. “They were treating me like a celebrity at the convention. It was cool seeing on video what I’ve accomplished in my life.”
That video program was an opportunity for David and others to thank the Shriners for the expert care they receive at Shriners hospitals.
“I’m thankful to Shriners for helping me better my life,” he said. “Without them, I couldn’t do what I’m doing now. Throughout my life, they’ve been there for me.”
Spina bifida is a birth defect affecting the development of the spinal cord. Throughout his lifetime, David has received extensive physical therapy and occupational therapy at the St. Louis Shriners Hospital in Frontenac.
“David went through first or second grade getting that therapy at Shriners, and he’s also had two surgeries there - for club foot at the age of 3, and for preventive hip operation, to keep his hips from turning in, when he was 11 - during which time he received therapy in the hospital for days at a time,” his mother, Sandy, said.
Other than that, David has gone to the clinic at Shriners Hospital every six months to have X-rays taken for signs of scoliosis, which often happens to young people with spina bifida.
Because the hip surgery was successful, David still is able to walk with crutches and braces today. And not just walk, either. He has made a name for himself as a competitive athlete.
David participates in the local Disabled Athlete Sports Association for sled hockey and wheelchair track, and in the St. Louis Wheelchair Athletic Association for competitive wheelchair basketball. He travels across the United States and the world to compete.
In June, David won a bronze medal in the 1,500-meter wheelchair exhibition at the 2008 U.S. Olympics Team Trials in Eugene, Ore.
“They invited the eight fastest wheelchair junior athletes to compete and do an exhibition in front of 24,000 people,” Sandy said. “And David got paid $250 cash in addition to the medal. And they paid for his hotel and airfare.”
He enjoyed being there “because the competition was pretty steep, and I was able to stretch myself.”
David’s family is just as active as he is.
Sandy spends the last Friday of each month at St. Louis Shriners Hospital’s spina bifida clinic, greeting spina bifida patients and their families. And she’s on the local Spina Bifida Association Board of Directors. Sandy provides brochures about the association and answers questions.
“Because I’m a parent of a child with spina bifida, they know they’re talking to someone going through what they are,” she said.
She also works part time for Floral Products and is a vendor who goes to stores throughout the St. Louis area to straighten and order flowers. David’s father, Matt, works as a manager for Hertz Corp. David’s sister, Mandy, 21, is a senior at St. Louis University.
David also has served as a counselor for St. Louis Variety, an organization that buys medical equipment for children with disabilities.
In the past, he volunteered as a junior counselor at St. Louis Variety’s summer camp. Last year, he turned 16 and was paid for being a senior counselor.
After graduation from Marquette, David hopes to attend the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, a school that has wheelchair track and basketball teams.
“I’m thinking I’d like to go into the field of psychology,” he said. “For now, I just try to be involved in as much as I can.”