Matonya Wieczorek’s body is permanently bent at a 45-degree angle.
Wieczorek was born folded in half, her feet tucked behind her head, the result of a rare congenital defect where the lower third of the spine fails to develop in the womb. Doctors, unsure she would survive and confident she would never walk, suggested amputating both legs.
“My parents didn’t believe the doctors, they thought I could overcome this,” said Wieczorek.
Now, at 22 years old, she is defying medical experts. With the help of a custom-built walker affectionately named “Bob,” she walks between classes at the University of South Florida, where she is a senior double majoring in anthropology and psychology with a minor in sign language.
“I had nine surgeries, I have 13 scars, but I walk, I drive, I don’t let anything stand in my way,” she explained.
Wieczorek has sacral agenesis, a rare condition that occurs in about one in 25,000 live births. Her upper body is fully developed and normal, but her legs are small and frail. Her club feet barely fill out size one children’s shoes; stretching out, she is almost 4 feet tall.
“Tall enough to ride the roller coasters at Busch Gardens,” she said.
Wieczorek is determined to not let her disability define her. She excelled at Mitchell High School, where she played clarinet in the band and was awarded a scholarship. She plans to attend grad school and wants to work with children with disabilities.
Wieczorek loves going to concerts and is a certified scuba diver. She recently had hand controls fitted into a new car, a Mini Cooper that she describes as “small, but with personality… like me.”
“She’s inspired me in many ways,” said Matthew Mettler, a longtime friend. “She has such guts, such courage, she wants the most she can get out of life.”
Mettler often sees people stare at his friend in public, but Wieczorek said she doesn’t notice. She added that everyone is nice to her, and strangers frequently offer her assistance with stairs. She thinks USF has been terrific in accommodating her, topography aside.
“All except the hills,” Wieczorek said with a laugh. “No one appreciates the hills on campus quite like I do; even the small ones are a nightmare.”