NORTH TONAWANDA, NY - During a High School football game on a chilly October afternoon In 2006, Nick Giangreco, a 14 year old member of the St Joseph’s Collegiate Institute freshman team, collapsed on the side line after suffering a stroke.
He lapsed into a coma where, according to his father, doctors gave him a one percent chance to survive.
“Who would have thought that this would happen to my son? I think every parent says that when it happens to their child,” Paul Giangreco told WGRZ-TV at the time.
However, Nick survived, and worked arduously through endless and grueling hours of physical therapy to eventually be able to graduate with his high school class in 2010.
Today, almost a decade since the stroke that nearly claimed his life, Nick still experiences some limitations with his left arm and leg, and with his speech, as he continues to make strides in what is an ongoing recovery.
“For example, I just began to do pushups three years ago, now I can lift three times as much as I could back then. I have more dexterity than I had a while back…it's a process," said Nick, now 24, while on a recent visit back home to Western New York.
It’s a process guided by a singular thought.
“How can I improve myself and go forward, and at the same time hopefully help others," Giangreco said.
After high school, he earned a degree in Biochemistry from the University of Rochester, and currently works for the National Institutes of Health in Washington D.C. where he is a cancer researcher.
“I also tutor high school students in different subjects like math and science, I also volunteer at my church, helping teenagers grow in the catholic faith," Giangreco said.
This fall, he will enroll at New York’s Columbia University, where he has been accepted into the PHD program for Systems Biology.
"I just found out that I like to learn about science,” said Giangreco. “I think a lot of it had it had to do with being immersed in it, especially with doctors and learning about my own body as well, and also being at school learning about the science behind what was happening."
Not bad, for someone who had lost 80% function of his brain stem, when the stroke occurred ten years ago.
“He’s amazing,” said Paul Giangreco about his son. “He has overcome more obstacles than anybody thought he would overcome. Nicholas has really become my mentor…he's really become my hero of learning different things.”
Nick, who attributes his recovery to his parents, his family, his faith in God, and all the people who cheered him on, doesn’t look at himself as a hero of any sort.
“I don’t like to say that I’m an inspiration. I’d really like to focus on how I can help someone else. If I can share my story and they can learn from what I've done, then that’s great,” he said.