Adapt and overcome.
If you’re having a bad day and things aren’t going well, talk to Paul Pawelko.
“I’d trade you in a heartbeat,” he says.
Paul, a 55-year-old Roundup resident, was born with no left arm and only three fingers on a very short right arm. At age 5 he had open heart surgery in an attempt to repair a hole in the upper chamber of his heart.
Despite these challenges, he lives alone, drives his own truck, hunts deer with a rifle and plays pool using one size-12 foot as a cue rest. His toe touch is so delicate he can pick up quarters and place them in the narrow coin slots of the Grand Hotel’s pool table.
“You wonder why he doesn’t wear socks in the wintertime, and then you realize he uses his toes for a lot of different things,” says friend Karen Castro.
“When it gets 30 below zero, then I put on socks,” Paul says with a laugh.
In medical terms Paul’s birth defects are known as phocomelia syndrome.
“The bones of the arms, and in some cases other appendages, may be extremely shortened and even absent,” according to WebMD. “The fingers of the hands may be fused.”[…]
Paul did get special treatment away from home, though. He was taken to a Grand Rapids, Michigan, hospital when he was 9 months old to begin learning how to use his feet as substitute hands. He first learned to feed himself, then how to write.
He later attended grade school for the handicapped and disabled after his mother moved to Puyallup, Washington, to be closer to facilities that could assist Paul. By high school he was integrated into the public school system.
“I dress myself. I cook. I do pretty much everything,” he says.
In the summer when he would visit his bachelor uncle, Roman “Tony” Pawelko, in Roundup, Paul began learning how to drive a stick shift, fish and hunt. He can cast a regular fishing rod, as long as the reel handle is on the right. And Paul can shoot out to about 200 yards by sitting and balancing the barrel of the gun on his foot.
In one unfortunate accident, he thought he had shot all of the bullets out of his modified Remington 6mm Woodsmaster semi-auto rifle, pulled the trigger and blew the pinky toe off his left foot. The blast also fractured the next three toes. He was hospitalized for seven days.
“It was not fun,” Paul says in understated fashion.
Luckily, he’s right-foot dominant so he was still able to perform most of the tasks he uses his feet to help with. It took almost a year before he built up enough confidence to shoot again, though. This year, he shot a three-point whitetail buck.