Birth Defects

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Jacob Duke, West Chester PA

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Let Jacob get it!

The young mother would ask the adults and older children to let her toddler, Jacob, get his own toy. While it must have broken her heart to watch him struggle, she knew that Jacob’s future depended on his being able to overcome the adversity life presented to him. She didn’t want her son to believe that he had no other choice but to be a victim.

His mother became an advocate for amputees, often bringing Jacob along with her to meetings as an example of a child who can overcome adversity if they are provided the opportunity to do so.

“One of the things that I find discouraging is when I meet an amputee who continues to consider themselves to be a victim. If there is something you really want in life, you go for it, regardless of the obstacles you face!”

Jacob was born without a lower left arm. His right hand has a thumb and two webbed fingers, an improvement after multiple surgeries. His feet below his ankle were also deformed, requiring him to walk with prosthetics. It is believed that the exposure his father had to Agent Orange in the Vietnam War was directly responsible for Jacob’s birth condition. Statistically, there is a 1 in 5 chance that children born to those exposed to the chemical will be deformed. Jacob is the youngest of five children, the only child with deformities.

He spoke of playing defensive tackle for Downingtown Middle School with the same matter-of-factness many 21-year-old young men would have.

“I would have played football in high school but the doctors felt the prosthetics might wear out my knees too quickly”, Jacob shared.

Jacob also learned to play the drums with his one hand. He became a lyricist and singer with the band The Under Classed, enjoying the experience performing in different venues.

“I no longer have stage fright!” he said with a smile.

He is currently employed at a Wawa store in the West Chester, Pennsylvania area. His goal is to rise up in management with the convenience store chain as far as he can go. While he has enjoyed the support of the corporation, his job has had its awkward moments.

“I’m used to people staring at me. Especially children. Hey, I understand that I look different to them and I’m ok with children asking their parents for an explanation as to why I look the way I do. What is awkward is when the parents discourage them, even if it is done so out of politeness. It sends a message to the children that people like me shouldn’t be talked about.”

“Sometimes I feel like people are afraid to touch me. It’s like they think they are going to catch a disease or something.”

Jacob, currently a business administration student at Delaware County Community College in Media, PA, would like to continue in his mother’s footsteps by being an advocate for amputees through teaching and public speaking. He cites a continuous need to increase the tolerance in our society for amputees.

“I think one of the things that has helped me is that I am very reluctant to ask for help. Whether it is playing football or operating a cash register, I keep trying new things, wondering what I can do, what barriers to a normal life I can knock down.”

Jacob Duke truly has the spirit of a Gramazin Story. For him, adversity is an opportunity to prove what challenges he can overcome. Thank you for the inspiration, Jacob.

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