THE WOODSIDE HERALD
Student Overcomes A Disability To Pursue His Love For Art Juan Agudelo, a LaGuardia Community College student, has an art portfolio filled with an eclectic collection of beautifully sketched still lifes, animals and human figures. To draw with such precision and detail is a gift few possess. But what makes Juan’s gift so exceptional is that he creates these works of art without arms. The Colombian native was born with a birth defect that left him without arms and legs. Juan’s right arm ends at the elbow and at the end of his left elbow is a short, undeveloped forearm with one finger. But although he does not have the use of two functioning arms, he can nimbly place a pen or pencil between his right arm and left finger and let his one finger guide the writing utensil. To the 20-year old with an easy smile, his drawing technique is nothing special because he developed his technique at a very early age. By the age of six, Juan was already creating simple paintings and drawings. After observing the enjoyment her son got from drawing, his mother called upon an artist friend to give him art lessons, which he did for two years. The lessons stopped when the family received a call from Healing the Children, a non-profit organization that provides medical care for children in need, saying that it had secured a sixmonth medical visa for Juan and his mother to travel to the United States where he would be fitted with his first set of prosthetic legs. For Juan, this news could change his life. While not having the use of arms did not seem to pose a problem, not having legs proved to be more difficult for him. Although he was able to get around on limbs that ended at the knees, there were times when he had to rely on his mother. “I was pretty independent, but when I went outside I could not get around on my own,” said Juan. “And as I got older I did not like when my mother had to carry me.” Juan and his mother stayed with family members in New Haven and went to the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center where doctors agreed to evaluate Juan’s medical condition and fit him with prosthetics. Upon examination, doctors discovered that Juan would have to go through several surgeries on his legs before he could be
fitted. While the hospital agreed to cover the cost of the medical care, it would not cover extended in-house cost totaling $15,000. Determined to get his new legs, Juan decided to raise the money by selling his drawing and paintings at a one-man show he would hold at a New Haven space. Selling over 15 pieces of artwork, Juan not only raised enough money to cover his expenses, but he was able to donate some of his earnings to the organization. “I was so appreciative of what Healing the Children did for me,” said Juan, “that I thought it was only right to give the rest of the money to the organization so that they could help other children.” With his new legs and his newfound mobility, Juan and his mother stayed in Connecticut for two years and then moved to Astoria. Before resettling in Astoria, the family moved to Pennsylvania for two years. Wherever Juan called home, he went to school where he struggled to learn his new language and continued to draw his favorite subjects: dragons, still life, pirates and his favorite adventurer, Robinson Crusoe. “I love to draw from my imagination,” said Juan. When the family moved back to Astoria, Juan completed his last two years of high school at Long Island City High School, and graduated this past June. He received an acceptance from New York City College, but decided to enroll in LaGuardia. “I was not sure of my major,” he said, “and felt if I attended a community college I would have more time to think about my career.” Juan said that he may consider pursuing a degree in architecture, a major he considered before coming to LaGuardia. Or maybe graphic design. Or maybe he will follow the advise of an art professor who saw his portfolio and major in fine arts. Right now Juan is busy taking freshman seminar, introduction to cooperative education and a developmental reading course. He is also taking advantage of the College’s Office for Students with Disabilities where he receives additional tutoring and has access to computers. “I have time to decide on my career,” he said with a smile.
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FRIDAY, APRIL 20, 2012
Published on Apr 20, 2012