AGAINST ALL ODDS

Written By: Joshua Bradford Gray | Photography By: Kit Noble

How a Nantucket High School student continues to overcome staggering obstacles.

Higor Souza was not born to succeed—he was driven to succeed. A native of Minas Gerais, Brazil, Souza was born without arms and with legs without femurs, causing his growth to be extremely stunted. When this rare condition was discovered while she was carrying Higor, his mother, Patrícia Souza, was advised by friends and medical professionals to terminate the pregnancy, but she refused. After Souza was born, doctors said again and again that he would never be able to walk. Some teachers said that without hands for writing, he would never be formally educated. Despite being marginalized and discounted by so many at such a young age, today Souza stands—and walks—as a remarkable example of perseverance.

Patrícia Souza brought her son into the world knowing that he would encounter a myriad of challenging and sometimes cruel obstacles. Amid the chorus of negativity and defeatism, Patrícia taught her son that to accomplish his goals, he would have to work much harder than most people. He needed to rely on his own internal drive and strength. The first of many accomplishments as a child was teaching himself to walk. Next, he mastered using his feet to hold things, write, type and operate an iPhone.

Four years ago, Souza and his mother moved to Nantucket to join his grandmother. He began classes at Nantucket High School without speaking a single word of English. Some four years later, he is fluent in English and plans to begin computer science classes at Cape Cod Community College next fall. “After what I’ve been through in my life, coming to Nantucket and starting high school here wasn’t that scary,” Souza said. “It was so small in comparison to everything else. The twenty kids with me in my class seemed more scared than I was.”

Another of Souza’s major accomplishments is in the world of online gaming. He spends between five and ten hours a day as a semiprofessional video game player, specializing in the worldwide phenomenon known as Counter-Strike. A series of “first person shooter games” with a large, twenty-year-strong online following, this gaming community of all ages is one of the most highly respected in the world. Counter-Strike’s annual tournament draws thousands of players, competing for major cash prizes. Through the online platform Twitch, fellow gamers watch Souza play throughout the day, some of them even paying to do so. Without a lot of professional avenues available to him, gaming became a legitimate means of making money.

Souza has mastered the use of his feet to accomplish many tasks, including playing video games as a semi-professional gamer.

However, Souza’s ability to play came to an abrupt halt on September 27, 2019, when a precautionary shutdown and evacuation of Nantucket High School led to him breaking his legs. When false reports of an active shooter began circulating around the school and the Nantucket community, students rushed to hiding places or out of the building completely. Souza said that while he was attempting to do the same, he became trapped in an area several feet off the ground. Fearing that he would be an easy target for a shooter, Souza decided to jump, badly breaking both legs as a result. He was rushed to surgery where he received a metal plate as well as twelve metal screws to repair the damage.

“It was a very dark time for me because I could not do anything,” he said. “I went into physical therapy and started to walk again after about four months. My mom helped me a lot and it was really hard, but I knew it was going to pass. It was just another challenge.”

Higor endured a number of surgeries to repair his broken legs last year.

Souza is now fully recovered and back to school and gaming, but the one thing he hasn’t been able to achieve under the strength of his own willpower is raising the funds for prosthetic arms. The state-of-the-art appendages that he has dreamt about for years were always something that seemed unattainable, until a friend recommended that he ask the Nantucket community to help him through GoFundMe.

The arms won’t be robotic and won’t require surgery,” he said. “It’s three switches that will allow me to grab and pick things up using three buttons I can manipulate with my shoulder bones…I’ve always dreamt there would be a way for me to have arms one day, because it will make my life much easier and I will be able to do a lot more. We sometimes joke that when I get these, I’ll have four arms because I will still have my feet!”

Higor has raised tens of thousands of dollars for cutting-edge prosthetic arms.

The fundraising campaign began with Souza posting a link asking for help on the Nantucket Year-Round Community Facebook page. Almost immediately a dedicated group of supporters assembled and began to get the word out both online and in the media. As of press time, almost five hundred donors had raised just under $55,000, with a current goal of $95,000, though after a recent fitting, Souza expects the end cost to come in just under $125,000.

For Souza this is simply one more challenge he must conquer, this time with the help of many hands, those of his friends, family, church and community. His is a story of perseverance and resilience, of fortitude and faith in God, and an example of what the love of a mother can do for her son. “In life, there’s a lot of different perspectives and experiences,” he said. “You must decide if you’re going to wake up and smile, or if you’re going to wake up sad and be discouraged. Never give up.”

To support Higor’s campaign to receive prosthetic arms, click here.

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