DISABILITIES

By Daniel J. Vance

 

  Matt Suchman of Westminster, Maryland, is a remarkable teen. At 17 he plays varsity lacrosse and soccer, and has played drums for his high school, church and four different bands.

  And he was born without half his left arm.

  The Amputee Coalition of America (ACA) says about 1.3 million Americans were born missing any part of a limb, were born with a deformed limb, or have lost part or all of an arm or leg through trauma or surgery. While limb loss can occur due to diabetes, trauma, cancer, infection or disease, the causes of most congenital absences or malformations of limbs like Matt's are unknown.

  "I grew up in a church that had a drummer," he told me over the telephone. "Seeing one there, I decided at age 4 I wanted to be one."

  At age 6 he was further inspired by hearing the story of Rick Allen, the drummer who after losing an arm in a car accident continued playing for rock band Def Leppard. Matt knew for certain he could play drums when his best friend's mom showed him a video of Allen.

  "My arm stops two inches past the elbow," he said. "I do have an elbow joint, which does help with my drumming."

  To play drums, he wraps a "tennis elbow pad" around his elbow and tucks a drumstick inside the pad. So he plays with a stick in his left elbow and another in his right hand.

  He used to own an artificial arm, but saw it as a hindrance. It may have improved his appearance, but little else. With it he still had difficulty slicing bread and tying shoes. "If someone has a problem with my looks, then that's their problem," he said.

  Last year Matt was chosen to lead worship and play drums for assemblies at his Maryland high school, Chapelgate Christian Academy. "It was an awesome experience," he said. Since age 13 he has played for four bands: Royal Pains, Golgotha, Five's Company and Tribute. And he also plays varsity lacrosse and soccer.

  As an inspiration to others born with one arm, he said, "If you really want to play drums, you can if you have the will, drive and determination," he said. "I'm a living example. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't."

  To learn more, visit Amputee Coalition of America at www.amputee-coalition.org. To reach me, visit www.danieljvance.com.