updated 12/30/2013 AT 4:00 PM ET
•originally published 01/07/2014 AT 5:15 PM ET
Angela Redd had cared for thousands of medically fragile children in her position as a developmental specialist in Valhalla, N.Y. at Blythedale Children’s Hospital. But in July 2000, when a 2-month-old infant named Saliman with webbed legs and fingers and tubes running into his body stared at her with his soulful, brown eyes, she was changed forever – she knew he was hers.
“I can’t even describe it,” says Angela, 52. “I just gravitated toward him.”
Little Saliman wasn’t expected to live beyond his second birthday because of a rare medical condition known as Bartsocas-Papas Syndrome that causes severe physical malformations.
“During my free time, I was there by his bedside,” remembers Angela. “I would take his clothes home to wash them, I would go out and buy him bibs.”
Sad that Saliman didn’t often have visitors, Angela, who has a grown daughter from a previous relationship, quickly spotted “the regular, normal kid” beneath little Saliman’s devastating physical deformities.
“He would light up when he saw her,” recalls Lisa Henry, 51, also a developmental specialist at Blythedale. “You could see the chemistry between them.”
When it became clear that his biological parents couldn’t care for him, she convinced her husband Rashid, a postal worker, that they were meant to be his parents and together, they brought Saliman home from the hospital at 17 months, cleaned his feeding and breathing tubes, cared for him through dozens of operations – including two leg amputations – and eventually adopted him.
Today, Saliman, 13, gets around on prosthetic legs and is an active eighth-grader who loves baseball, soccer, wrestling and rock-wall climbing. A fan of Glee, he recently auditioned for his school play, Guys and Dolls.
“I like being the center of attention,” he says. “I want to be a famous actor when I grow up.”
“If they hadn’t,” says Saliman, “I’d probably be in an orphanage or in the ground.”
Watching him undergo painful surgeries, fittings for prosthetic legs starting at 16 months and years of physical, speech and occupational therapy, the couple were amazed at Saliman’s unbreakable spirit.
“He was always curious and rambunctious – he wants to try everything and do everything,” says Angela of Saliman, who would take off his prosthetics to do gymnastics at age 7. “Saliman has taught us so much. When he puts on those prosthetics and goes to school, it makes me feel like I can do anything.”
Though Saliman has to undergo a jaw-realignment surgery to help correct a speech impediment, he says he’s not worrying.
“My parents have taught me to keep going forward, never stop and never give up,” Saliman says. “The more different we are, the more special we are.”
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