Recalling student who 'changed our school'
JOY: Tim Barbato played soccer with a league in Rochester for people in motorized wheelchairs. Barbato, a quadriplegic since birth, stayed very busy. He died Tuesday from pneumonia.
By Tom Rivers email@example.com
Wednesday, December 9, 2009 12:07 PM EST
CLARENDON -- Tim Barbato, 16, refused to be defined by his physical disabilities, to have his motorized wheelchair be his lasting impression on others.
Tim, a quadriplegic since birth, won over his Holley classmates and teachers with his smile, his determination and his sweet spirit. Tim died Tuesday from pneumonia after three weeks in Strong Memorial Hospital's pediatric care unit.
"It's just terrible," said Penny Cole, the secretary at the Holley guidance department. "I just can't believe it."
Tim stopped by the school's office every morning to see Cole. He loved to socialize with her and the students. She nicknamed him "Hotness."
"I love all the kids at Holley, but Timmy was special to me," Cole said Tuesday night. "He taught me to be a better person. He was always so up and so happy. He was such a lovely person."
He was a senior at Holley Junior-Senior High School, where he maintained a 96 average and was a member of the National Honor Society. About 400 students on Tuesday signed a memorial banner, filling it with messages to Tim and his parents, Scott and Donna Barbato of Clarendon.
"He changed our school just by being there," said his friend Mark Heath, a Holley senior. "He improved our student body and our community."
Tim was a regular performer in school talent shows. He had an angelic voice and a great sense of humor, and he combined them in his raps, even winning grand champion at one talent show, said Cole, whose son Matt is also a senior at Holley.
Tim traveled to New York City with the Spanish Club two years ago, and ascended to the top of the Empire State Building. He was in Holley's production of "High School Musical," played percussion using a mouth stick in the school band, sang in chorus and took challenging courses at Holley. He started an internship last summer with the Center for Disability Rights in Rochester. He has been traveling by public transportation to the city at least once a week.
He wrote a blog for the center and he often shared his experiences about accessibility at Rochester area college campuses. Tim was particularly critical of Geneseo State College and how difficult the campus was to navigate for a person in a wheelchair.
He wanted to be a social worker and he intended to go to Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester this fall.
Tim was home-schooled until the fourth-grade. Heath was in that first class with Tim back then. It didn't take Tim long to become well-liked by his classmates, to get them to look beyond his wheelchair and focus on his personality.
"You couldn't help but to see his smile and smile back at him," Heath said. "He was so unselfish in trying to help everyone."
Heath and Tim quickly bonded in the fourth-grade. They **** out at each other's houses and went to see "Monsters Inc." and "Jimmy Neutron" together at the movie theater. "He was still a kid who had passions," Heath said.
Scott and Donna Barbato adopted Tim when he was an infant. When Tim was born June 30, 1993, he wasn't breathing. A little ball of fatty tissue was lodged in his spine. The ball included a clump of his nerves that weren't functioning. Those nerves needed to work for Timmy to have control of his arms, legs and torso.
When Tim's unwed mother received his diagnosis -- permanent quadriplegic with dependence on a ventilator -- she put him up for adoption.
The Barbatos were open to adopting a son more than 16 years ago. They had already adopted sisters Nicole and Sandy. Scott and Donna heard about Tim when he was an infant. They were initially reluctant to adopt a child with significant physical disabilities. But they said they felt God leading them to Tim, urging them to take him as a son.
Scott and Donna said they never regretted that decision. They believe God had a plan for Tim, using him to encourage so many other people.
"He was always kind, no matter what," his mother said in the kitchen at the family's home Tuesday. "He had such a pure spirit. He was a gift from God."
Tim never complained about his physical limitations, his parents said. He found ways to experience his passions. Tim barely had use of his arms and hands so he used his mouth stick to type on the computer. He typed 20 to 25 words a minute, a faster pace than is father. He loved rap and hip hop music and he and his father loved to jam with a turntable at their home.
Tim also played in a soccer league in Rochester for children and adults who use motorized wheelchairs. He visited elementary classrooms in Holley, explaining adaptive use equipment. He urged the students to not fixate on his wheelchair. He said people with disabilities want to be looked in the eye.
When Tim was 7, he was featured in The Daily News. His upbeat qualities were apparent in that news article. His parents wondered then if Tim would keep that positive attitude during his teenage years. They worried he would rebel and become angry and frustrated with his physical challenges. But Tim never did rebel, never talked back to his parents and delighted in serving God, his mother said.
"Tim lived a full life," Mrs. Barbato said. "He was a great inspiration to everybody. There was no one who didn't like Tim. He was truly of God."
Mr. and Mrs. Barbato both thanked the Holley community for accepting their son and "looking out" for him.
Mrs. Barbato challenged Tim's friends to continue his legacy.
"You can be like Tim Barbato," she said. "You can choose to be kind. You can choose to put others above yourself."