Student with debilitating disease to graduate at top of class - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Student with debilitating disease to graduate at top of class

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Joseph Walter (abc3340.com) Joseph Walter (abc3340.com)

Pompe disease is an extremely rare, debilitating and often fatal illness. It disables the heart and skeletal muscles.

Eighteen years ago, doctors told one local couple not to expect to keep their newborn son for long. They were wrong. Joseph Walter is now a high school senior.

Pompe disease has all but taken over his body. But he has astounded everyone with what he has accomplished with the use of one thumb and two fingers.

Joseph is a senior at Clay Chalkville High School. One look, and it's clear his high school experience has been far from ordinary.

"It's hard. It's not easy. That doesn't mean he's different than anybody else. He's still a normal teenager," he says.

Joseph has pompe disease. It's a rare condition that disables the organs, tissues and muscles. It can cause heart failure, breathing problems, and death. That's something his parents, Bo and Debbie Walter were told to prepare for early in his life.

"When he was diagnosed we were told he has a very rare form of a very rare disease. That he would not see his second birthday," said Bo Walter.

Not only has Joseph lived longer than doctors anticipated, he's exceeded academic expectations.

His high school principal Michael Lee says Joseph is one of his hardest working students.

"I've said this to other people before, I believe he could run a fortune 500 company. He's an amazing, amazing student," said Lee.

Joseph has a perfect 4.0 grade point average, and he's number twenty in his graduating class. His parents knew early their son would do well in school because they wouldn't have it any other way.

Joseph receives weekly assignments from his teachers, which he completes on his computer. He does this under the supervision of his Home Bound teacher, Pamela Smith. Math questions, multiple choice, and essays are completed with his thumb ... And two  fingers.

His teachers say they've been blown away by his work.

"You would be doing that child a disadvantage if you ever tried to water anything down for him. He's always going to be ahead and he always wants to know more," said his teacher, Teresa Gregory.

Joseph considers himself a typical teenager. He wants people to keep one thing in mind.

"Disabilities don't mean the world is ending. You can still do normal stuff. Just in a different way."

Joseph will graduate May 23rd. His parents say he will be there in his chair to make it across the stage.

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