By Matthew Cyr
Thirteen years ago Peter was born in the Philippines
missing both arms below the elbow, his left leg below the knee,
and having only a small hole where his mouth should have been. When
he was 3 months old, his young mother decided that she would be
unable to take care of him, and took him to an orphanage near Manila.
The nuns who ran the orphanage took Peter's picture
and included it in an adoption agency newsletter, which then found
its way into the hands of Wayne and Kathie Bruce.
By that point, in 1990, the Bruces were pros at adoption.
They had already adopted six children—three from the United States
and three from Korea—and were ready to try again. As they flipped
through the newsletter, trying to glean what information they could
from the photographs and simple descriptions, they came across Peter's
picture. The caption said he had Pierre Robin Syndrome, a rare congenital
abnormality that causes the lower jaw to be very small and the tongue
to fall to the back of the throat, but there was frustratingly little
else about what kind of condition he was in.
"The adoption agency didn't know anything about
him besides what could be seen in the picture," says Wayne.
"They couldn't tell us how he ate, if he could see or hear,
or even if he was going to live more than a few months. So we passed
Despite the Bruces' concerns, there was nothing life
threatening about any of Peter's physical problems. Shortly after
his arrival at the orphanage, he had a surgical procedure where
doctors took skin from his hip and created a mouth so he would no
longer have to be fed through an eye dropper. When he was 3 he got
his first prosthetic foot. And just as important as the physical
changes, fending for himself in the competitive atmosphere of the
orphanage taught Peter that he could do everything the other children
could. Just like everyone else though, he longed for a family to
come take him home.
By 1994 Wayne and Kathie had adopted their eighth
child, a son named Danny, from the Philippines, and decided they
were ready to adopt again. They were flipping through more photos
when they saw the unmistakable likeness of a now-4-year-old Peter.
"I looked at Wayne and said, •I recognize this boy; I think
he was meant to come here,'" says Kathie. Shortly thereafter,
Wayne took advantage of his family's second chance, and flew to
the Philippines to pick Peter up. It's safe to say that Peter's
was not the only life that changed that day.
A good kind of different
Shortly after arriving at his new home, the Bruces brought Peter
to Children's Hospital Boston. He went to the Craniofacial Clinic
to determine what, if anything, needed to be done about Peter's
Pierre Robin Syndrome and to the NOPCO Brace Shop, a private company
located within Children's that makes supportive devices and prosthetic
limbs for patients with a range of problems. Those initial visits
gave the Bruces and everyone they met at the hospital an idea what
kind of person Peter is.
Because of the shape of the lower jaw and the fact that the tongue
can hang down the throat, many children with Pierre Robin have difficulty
eating and breathing, but as Peter had proven in the previous four
years, he could manage just fine. So he was being seen in the Craniofacial
Clinic that day for aesthetic reasons. After an evaluation, surgeons
told the Bruces they could fix Peter's lower jaw and mouth, but it
would take a lot of work. "Since he didn't have any feeding issues,
we left it up to Peter to decide," says Kathie, "and he
told us he didn't want to have the surgery. He doesn't feel like he
looks any different than anyone else."
one exception. When he got to the United States, Peter had the same
prosthetic foot that he got in the Philippines two years earlier,
and since it had stayed the same size while Peter grew, it needed
to be replaced. He made his first visit to the Brace Shop, where
technicians gave him options for how his new foot could look. "Some
kids want their foot or arm to be flesh toned so they look like
everyone else," says Jim Wynne, director of Prosthetics at
NOPCO, "and there are others who want their prosthetic customized
with the logo of their favorite sports team, cartoon character or
t-shirt. The first foot we made for Peter had a large-mouth bass
on it because he's an avid fisherman. But when he read Harry Potter,
he decided he wanted his leg to be made from a t-shirt with Fluffy,
the three-headed dog."
When the techs were done Peter's leg stood out, just
like the rest of him. There was only one problem, which Peter discovered
while playing laser tag with his friends a couple years ago. "Peter
kept getting shot during the game," says Kathie, "and
that's when he figured out that Fluffy's drool glowed in the dark."
Peter of all trades
Both decisions—first not to have surgery and then to adorn his prosthetic
foot with a three-headed dog—were the result of a confidence that
Peter exudes no matter what he does. "Peter loves to be the
center of attention," says Wayne. "He's the star of the
Those who know all of the Bruces say Wayne and Kathie
are also stars. "I've always been struck by the fact that Wayne
and Kathie have never focused on Peter's disabilities, only on his
abilities," says Carol Nolan, BSN, RN, a nurse in Children's
Orthopaedics Department who has known the Bruces for many years.
"They do that with all their children. They've given them all
opportunities to do a lot of things so they can figure out what
they're good at."
They've found that there's very little Peter isn't
good at. He fishes, plays football, kickball and baseball, and is
on the soccer team in his hometown of South Dartmouth, Mass. He
rides everywhere thanks to a bike that Wayne retrofitted with special
rings for the ends of Peter's arms. He helps out around the Bruces'
backyard farm, where they raise turkeys, pheasants, pigs and pumpkins.
And according to Wayne, he did more than anyone to help his sister,
Charlie, who has cerebral palsy, learn to walk. "She wasn't
supposed to even be able to sit up," he says, "but he
spent time with her every day, holding her hands and helping her
along. Within a few weeks she was walking."
But the thing Peter loves most is drawing and painting.
He always enjoyed it, but was encouraged to see how good he was
when his sister, Norah, who is 16, and brother Danny, who is 15,
signed up for a drawing class. "I like to be close to my brother
and sister," says Peter, "so I decided to join the class
When he draws, he alternately holds the colored pencils he prefers
to use between the ends of his arms or sticks them under his watch
band, and usually copies still pictures from a book. He's been so
successful that he has sold two of his pieces to Carol Nolan and her
fellow nurses, and won honorable mentions in contests where the judges
didn't know the artist was missing his arms below the elbows.
Despite all of his successes, it's hard not to wonder
if Peter sometimes feels different than his friends. "I can't
do a lot of things that other people can do like reach very far
or run as fast as my friends," he says, "but I feel like
I do everything I want to do. I don't want people to help me too
much. I want to do things for myself."
He's also fortunate to have a group of friends who
he's been close to for years. "Peter has never been the butt
of jokes," says Wayne. "His friends are protective and
just won't let it happen. That comes from his personality."
As he enters his teenage years, Wayne and Kathie think
that he may start having some difficulties, just like any other
teenager. "He's got great friends, but the teenage years are
hard on everyone," says Kathie. "He may decide that he
wants to have surgery for his Pierre Robin Syndrome, but that will
be a decision he'll make for himself when the times comes."
Until then, Peter is dealing with the issues of adolescence
like any other 13 year old, including the confusion brought on by
the opposite sex. "Sometimes girls say things I don't understand,"
he says. "I wish they would just say what they mean."
As they move into what promises to be a challenging
time for everyone, Wayne looks back on the second chance they had
to adopt Peter, and how it has changed all of their lives. "We
need Peter more than he needs us," he says. "We just give
him a step and he jumps off."