San Diego

Inspiring San Diego: Kindergarten Student Teaches Grownup Lessons on Ability and Acceptance

When you see David Fangerow with his kindergarten friends, his winning smile, not his physical challenges, will be the first thing that catches your eye. Fangerow was born without feet or a right hand. His mother, Melissa Kary, said there is no medical or genetic explanation why only one of David's limbs developed normally.

Kary learned about her son’s challenges at her 18-week pregnancy ultrasound. Like any expectant mother, Kary expected a healthy baby, so the devastating news came as a terrible shock.

"Every parent wants to hear their child is going to be healthy and have all 10 toes and 10 fingers. We stopped at five fingers and it took a bit to process. I was very scared. I didn't know what to do. I didn't want to tell anybody about David because what if people rejected David?”

Kary said she went through a grieving process knowing her son wasn’t going to experience life like other children.

Initially, Kary said, she envisioned the worst.

"My son's going to be in a wheelchair. He's going to be non-communicative. I had the worst thoughts in that ultrasound room because I didn't know what to think," she said.

Kary said it was her faith that helped her overcome her fear of the unknown.

"God gave him to us this way for a reason,” she said. “David is not supposed to have his feet and his hands to do whatever he's supposed to do on this world so his dad and I just said, this is our son."

Kary said she couldn’t have imagined the amazing little boy her son would become; so resilient, positive and capable. Fangerow was fitted with prosthetics at one year old and he was walking when he was two.

Over the years Fangerow has embraced the process of taking on and off his prosthetics as routine. Now, he is inspiring his kindergarten classmates and teachers at Morning Creek Elementary School in Sabre Springs. His teacher, Kelley Green, said David always has a smile on his face. Green said he’s teaching kids life-long lessons. “He’s teaching them there's nothing kids can't overcome and to see the positive in everyone which is what David does all day long."

Fangerow’s Instructional Assistant in Special Education, Jaimee Gopen, spends the school day by his side she said he is remarkably independent. Gopen said it’s been a joy to watch Fangerow grow academically, emotionally and socially for the past two years she has assisted him.

Gopen said Fangerow’s self-confidence in spite of his challenges has taught her to be more self-accepting. “I have learned to be how he is. To be happy with myself," she said.

Fangerow’s classmate Ashley Johns describes Fangerow as a “really good friend and really nice and really kind."

Kindergartner, Ethan Chang, told NBC7, “If I didn't have him in my life my life would be totally worse."

And when asked about his challenges, Fangerow said, "I'm different, I like to be different." He is aware of his challenges but not defined by them. He also has a great sense of humor.

He was laughing when he said, “sometimes when people ask about me, I tell them that a dog ripped off my arm and I stepped in hot lava.”

Gopen said people, especially kids, are always asking Fangerow, “Why do you have that?” or “Why are you like this?”

She said even though he has a witty reply, his answer is almost always the same and it warms her heart.

“He tells them, ‘Oh God made me like this.’ And they say, ‘oh ok’ and it begins a discussion about differences and uniqueness,” Gopen said.

Acceptance, ability and empathy, they’re qualities Kary said she hopes her son holds on to as he grows up.

"In our home it's not like David has a disability he has so much ability! I think he teaches people that there's more than one way to do things. That we adapt. That it's okay to be different."

Fangerow will soon swap his prosthetic legs for a set of new set of blade-style cheetah legs thanks to a grant from the Challenged Athletes Foundation. David was featured on NBC Nightly News because of this milestone moment in his journey. Click here to watch the report.

Fangerow said with a huge smile, once he gets his cheetah legs he thinks he’ll be the “fastest person in the world.” His mom said she thinks he’ll be even more unstoppable than he is now.

No matter what type of prosthetics Fangerow is wearing, what makes this young man so special isn't about what's on the outside it's his ability to look beyond and share with others all the joy on the inside.

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