COURTNEY McCLURE The Standard
NORTH DURHAM: The Rotary Club of Port Perry has donated ten-thousand dollars to Grandview Kids. Nico Iemma, 15, and his mom, Susan Iemma, accepted on behalf of Grandview.
Now a more independent teen, Nico has been going to Grandview since he was little. “When we were asked to go accept [the] cheque, we were very happy,” said Susan.
For many years, Nico attended school at Campbell’s Children School in Grandview. And his mom is an early childhood educator there. Nico was born at 24 weeks premature alongside with his twin brother. They were born at less than a pound and a half each. They had less than a 50 per cent chance of survival during the first night. Unfortunately, Nico’s brother did not passed away two weeks after the twins were born.
“Nico just kept fighting,” she said.
The Iemma family spent the next five months in the hospital with Nico. After six months of being at home, Susan and her husband, Patrick, realized Nico wasn’t meeting the “milestones” that a developing infant should meet. They knew there would be a lot of physiotherapy ahead for Nico.
Nico was diagnosed with “severe” cerebral palsy. The doctor who diagnosed Nico said he would have learning disabilities and would never be able to walk.
“One of the doctors looked at my husband and said ‘So you’re not gonna have the little sports star you dreamed of’.”
Nico was taken to Grandview where another doctor confirmed Nico’s diagnosis of cerebral palsy. From there staff at Grandview worked with Nico to improve his overall motor skills. And, at about 4-years-old, Nico attended Campbell’s Children School at Grandview.
“[Nico] always worked really hard,” Susan said, describing Nico’s physiotherapy sessions. In kindergarten, therapy was a part of Nico’s school day. Although he used a walker at first, Nico eventually learned to drive a powerchair. A powerchair is a motorized wheelchair.
“[The powerchair] gave him a sense of independence,” said Susan. “It was the first time he could run away or do something he wasn’t asked to do.”
For example, Nico’s parents would tell him to turn to the right in his powerchair and he would turn left, “with a huge smile on his face”, his mom added. Nico’s parents are very “sporty” and always try to include him in sports whenever possible. The family skis together – Nico uses a sit-ski. Nico often plays boccia ball and he recently started learning how to play wheelchair hockey.
Outside of sports, Nico enjoys playing video games, creating 3D models and listening to audiobooks.
“There are not a lot of sports I, specifically, can play,” said Nico. So, he enjoys playing boccia.
According to Nico, boccia involves strategy. For example, there are different sized balls players can use – some are light, others are heavy. So, the player has to know which ball is best to use at what time.
“Instead of adapting a sport for him to play, [boccia] is a sport made for people like him,” explained Susan.
Nico started playing boccia when he was 9-years-old. Nico has travelled to a few different places while playing boccia. Nico won a gold medal at the 2023 Défi sportif AlterGo National Boccia Open in Montreal.
He also represented Canada at the Povoa World Boccia Youth Championship in Portugal.
“This little kid we were told would never be an athlete ended up becoming quite the athlete,” said Nico’s mom. Playing boccia has helped Nico show others what he can do.