No arms or legs: a Minnesota success story

5:45 PM, May 10, 2011   |    comments
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NORTHFIELD, Minn. -- Matthew Fink was born in 1988 without a spleen. The lack of that organ led to a massive Septis infection that required the amputation of his legs and his arms below the elbow in order to save his life. Thus, at 18 months of age, Matt Fink lost his hands and the ability to walk and run like other children.

The son and grandson of doctors, the little boy never gave up hope of a promising future. He attended public school and excelled. He became an honors graduate of Eagan High School in 2006.

Often tutoring undergraduates in math, Matthew learned to draw elegant portraits, balancing a pencil between what was left of his arms.

Matthew had his choice of 8 different colleges that wanted his name to someday grace their alumni lists. He chose Carleton College in Northfield. The school promised to clear snow and ice from the campus to accommodate his motorized wheelchairs. Matthew moved into a dorm with his college mates.

In 2011, at 22, with a beard now framing his somewhat fuller face, Matt Fink is one of 100 Thomas Watson Fellowship winners in the U.S.

"The Fellowship is to have an adventure in something that you are passionate about and hopefully learn something about yourself in the cultures that you are immersing yourself in along the way," explained Fink. He will travel to Scandinavia and South Korea to study internet computer gaming at the professional level.

"I have a lot of friends for whom the computer is essentially like their window to the world. It is how they interact with others. Some of them are either confined to home or have a lot of trouble with mobility. To them using a computer is a really meaningful experience. I want to find out how technology has changed other people with disabilities lives and gaming provides a really interesting opportunity to do that," said Fink.

Matthew taps away on a computer keyboard and pushes his mouse to play "Starcraft 2", his game of choice in the Carleton Center for Math and Computer Services.

Once again, he faces a commencement ceremony as an honors graduate, this time with a degree in International Relations and Political Science. Surprising to some, the young man with no hands continues his plan to go to medical school and become a doctor.

"I would like to so surgery of some sort. Whether or not that is logistically possible, I do not know at this point. It is possible that I will enter medical school and I will find something else that catches my interest," said Fink.

In December of 2009, Matthew spent two weeks in China doing research on Chinese Political systems. Back at Carleton, one of his last classes is in Chinese history. On May 10th, he presented a report on 19th Century China for the class. With two other students, he compared the writings of Chinese philosophers.

"Although there was a lot of Western influence, it definitely stopped short of what we would call the British ideal of a constitutional monarchy," Fink told the class.

He is articulate and speaks forcefully, drawing on the poise that once made him a champion high school debater.

The toddler who was forced by fate to bid farewell to his legs and hands has grown into the man his parents, Andrew and Cheri, and Matt's siblings had hoped for.

In addition to his own graduation, he looks forward to his sister, Emily's, commencement at Visitation High School. Brother Elliot is wrapping up his sophomore year at Minnehaha Academy.

And big brother Matthew will be off to Europe and Asia and then medical school.

(Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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