Nicholas Salerno has never played on the football team.
He never danced at his prom.
Never spoke a word.
Yet, if you asked his mother, Nancy, to name her hero, she would say without hesitation, “Nick.”
As the mother of four children, Nicholas, 18, Maria, 17, Victoria, 15 and Alexander 13, Nick was the one who introduced her to motherhood.
He was diagnosed with a rare form of cerebral palsy at 6 months old, and at that moment, she understood her son would require constant care for life.
The love she felt seemed foreign to the young mother who never expected the metamorphosis in her heart as she cradled her baby and looked into his chocolate eyes.
“I had never wanted to be a mother,” Nancy admitted. “I thought babies were awful and I wanted nothing to do with them. I figured that my husband, Mark, and I would be married, travel the world and never have children.”
PEOPLE OF FAITH
Name: Nancy Salerno
Parish: St. Anne, Pleasant Prairie
Occupation: Speaker and full-time mother
Favorite hobby: Traveling and knitting
Favorite church hymn: “The Summons”
Favorite song: “Moon River”
Favorite quotation: “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: Kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.” – Blessed Mother Teresa.
After some years of climbing the corporate ladder of high finance, Nancy began to realize two things: that babies were not awful and she was growing weary of the stress of her Chicago job.
When her pregnancy was threatened, Nancy left her job for mandatory bed rest, but she and Mark breathed a sigh of relief when Nick was born and appeared healthy.
There were signs, however, that Nick wasn’t achieving many of the milestones that older babies were, such as not reaching or grabbing for toys. For the rest of his life, he would communicate only through eye movement and Nancy and Mark realized they would never have a conversation with their son and listen to his hopes and dreams. The diagnosis was devastating for Nancy, who lost herself in caring for Nick and the three children that followed.
“I was angry for a long time,” she said. “The hardest part for me has been the stares and the comments from others. Nick has no control of his arms and gets excited and makes loud noises, but people seem to think he doesn’t understand their comments or doesn’t see their stares, but he does and he gets frustrated. One person saw us in an elevator and asked me what ‘it’ was. I couldn’t believe it. I told her that ‘he’ was a boy and was my son.”
Despite his limitations, Nick understands better than most teenagers. A senior at Central High School in Paddock Lake, he excels in math, has a 4.0 grade point average and communicates with a computerized device similar to the one used by scientist Stephen Hawking. He plans to attend college to become a veterinarian radiologist.
HEAR HER STORY
Hear Nancy Salerno share her inspirational story in person at the Milwaukee Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women convention, Saturday, April 18 at the Cousins Center, 3501 S. Lake Drive, St. Francis. Register to attend the two-day convention by calling (262) 797-0937.
For more information on Salerno’s speaking tour or to invite her to speak, contact her at www.facebook.com/BeLoveTour.
Juggling the younger children’s activities with the worries, responsibilities and health concerns that revolve around caring for Nick, as well as caring for her chronically ill mother, is stressful for Nancy. She admitted her faith was challenged. It took a toll on her health; a diagnosis of diverticulitis left her in pain, and feeling unloved and rejected by God.
“I remember lying on the couch, hyperventilating and in tears,” she said. “I felt so unloved and rejected, and it was beyond anything I had ever felt. I also had rejection from some of my family members and I felt like I was a terrible person. For some reason, I reached for my computer, turned it on and put my curser over something and saw this message, ‘God loves you,’ right there on the computer. The computer had been off before this, so I know it was a message from God.”
A lifelong Catholic and member of St. Anne Parish. Pleasant Prairie, her life changed a year ago when she and members of her parish participated in a 33-day Marian consecration.
“I began to be grateful for things that used to make me angry,” she said. “For example, if my tires were bad on my car, instead of being angry, I began to thank God for having a car for tires to be wrong, and it has made all the difference.”
One night, Nancy brought Nick into the bathroom as she always does. Taking him to the bathroom or changing his clothes is an involved process that lasts many minutes. Lifting her lanky son is challenging for the petite woman whose muscles ache relentlessly; she was extraordinarily tired that early spring day, and candidly, a bit angry.
“My arms were tired, and I was tired of lifting him and caring for him, and I was mad, not at Nick, but at the CP for what it has done to him, to all of us,” she confessed, eyes welling with tears. “I was taking off of his braces and began rubbing his cold legs and feet because he has no circulation in his legs and I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is my life.’ But then I received this message in my heart that his feet were Jesus’ feet and that Jesus is in Nick. I suddenly realized that I am taking care of the messenger of God. And I said, ‘Oh, my Lord, thank you.’”
For months, Nancy kept the revelation tucked into her heart, and never expected to share her experience, but after hearing Johnnette Benkovic speak on overcoming her trials at the 2013 Women of Christ Conference, she felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit to share her story and offer hope to others overwhelmed with the seeming insignificance of their lives.
Through the support of her children and husband, Nancy speaks to parishes and groups to share her story of transformation. She has partnered with Catholic singer/songwriter Anna Nuzzo, also of St. Anne Parish, to combine her story with some of Nuzzo’s original compositions.
“Mark and the children are so supportive,” she said. “I just want others to know that they are not alone, there are reasons for everything and there is peace and grace in waiting for things to happen.”