Home > Physical Challenges > "Maneuvering High School"
Maneuvering High School At Less Than Four Feet
by Cassie Upton

SHREWSBURY, Mass. -- Michael Surette is 3 feet 10 inches tall and has used a walker most of his life. From getting to his car to maneuvering through the halls of his school, the metal apparatus is rarely absent from Surette's side. Surette is an 18-year-old high school senior. Except for the walker, and the fact that he stands almost two feet shorter than his friends, he is very much like other teens his age.

Surette was born with a condition called "multiple congenital anomalies." His twin sister, Jaci, was not.

"Mike's condition basically means that he has no known syndrome as to why he is as he is," his mother, Mary Surrette, said. "'Multiple congenital anomalie' means that there are a bunch of different issues for him that occurred prior to him being born."

He has had more than 25 surgeries to correct malformations, "mostly on my legs to straighten them out," he said. "But I had one on my heart when I was younger and another on my ears." He also had a kidney removed and had two surgeries to correct hip dislocations.

When he talks about the surgeries, his tone is nonchalant. As a busy senior at Saint Johns High School in Shrewsbury, Mass., he has no time to ponder the hospital visits of years ago. Between keeping tabs on his favorite sports teams and recording statistics for his high school's teams, he barely has time to catch a few hours of sleep.

"Last night the Celts lost on a buzzer beater and I stayed up to 1 a.m. to watch it…to wake up at 7:30 to get ready for 9 a.m. for a basketball game for St. Johns. So, that wasn't a good decision," he said.

He dreams of becoming the general manager for one of Boston's top professional teams – the Celtics or the Red Sox – but says he'll also settle for being an agent to professional athletes because, "you get a ton of money." As he talks, he sits straight at the table but his legs dangle halfway between the edge of the chair and the floor. He doesn't seem to notice.

Jaci, who stands over 5'5", says that "although Mike and I are obviously very different we have never really talked about it. I do not really consider Mike to be different than me."

His mother says that the "whole family is more compassionate because of Michael. He is easy going and does not see himself as disabled."

Surette has already been accepted to the Department of Sport Management at the University of Massachusetts. He is waiting to hear from Boston College and Providence College. Wherever he goes, he is likely to need only relatively minor accomodations. He will need to live on the first floor, Mrs. Surette says, and he may need rides to some parts of campus.

In his daily life, he already faces constant challenges because of his height. While his friends can automatically reach for a doorknob to enter a classroom, it is more of a challenge for him. To get a glass out of a cupboard, he usually climbs on the counter. He has had his mother meet him at dentist appointments to carry his walker up the stairs.

"At times likes these I feel frustrated for him," Jaci said, " but he quickly gets over it so, I do too."