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Inner strength knows no limits

Vince Brasco doesn't pay attention to those who find it acceptable to stare at him when he walks down the street or the aisles of Best Buy.

He doesn't care about the naysayers who question his ability to be a firefighter.

At 4 feet 2 inches tall, Brasco ignores those who try to bring him down -- and relies on his own strength and the support of his family, friends, co-workers, professors and fellow firefighters to guide him to his goals.

And despite the pain he's feeling in his right knee -- and his looming 14th surgery next month -- Brasco, who was born with a form of dwarfism, never seems to stop smiling.

"You just can't let anything hold you back -- just love life," he said.

Brasco, 19, was born with achondroplasia, a genetic disorder that affects bone growth. It's manifested by short arms and legs, but a nearly normal-sized torso.

The rest of his family -- including parents Bill and Lesa, and sister, Adele, 15, are all of average height.

Brasco, who graduated in June from Hempfield Area High School, doesn't let the disorder slow him down.

He has a part-time job at Best Buy while juggling five classes this semester at Westmoreland County Community College. He has been a volunteer firefighter in Carbon since 2006. And he works out seven days a week.

Brasco is taking prerequisite courses to enter WCCC's nursing program next year.

His ultimate goal is to get his bachelor's degree in nursing and then go on for his master's to become a nurse practitioner.

"(After) all the surgeries I've had, I just want to see how I can help," Brasco said.

His dream is to work at the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., which has a department that specializes in dwarfism, "just because they've helped me so much, I want to give back."

All of his surgeries -- mainly dealing with joint problems and draining fluid from his brain -- have occurred there.

He knows he can become a nurse, and his family has been supportive.

"He doesn't limit himself," Bill Brasco said of his son. "If he says he's going to do something, he's going to go out and do it."

His parents told him of a nurse with dwarfism at the Delaware hospital, who helped him when he was in the intensive care unit, though he doesn't remember her.

"She was one of the best nurses I've had, that's what mom said," Brasco said. "She didn't let anything get past her."

He'll be back in Delaware on Dec. 15 for surgery on his right knee. His left knee already has been reconstructed.

"My doctors think I'm going to get arthritis just because I've had so many surgeries," Brasco said.

Though he is often in pain, Brasco keeps moving.

He loves his job in the computer department at Best Buy, which he started last February.

"My co-workers are really supportive. When I need help reaching stuff, when I call them, I don't have to ask twice," Brasco said. "Some of the computers -- the desktops -- are bigger than I am."

But other than reaching items, Brasco doesn't have problems carrying around stock.

He weighs 87 pounds, but he can bench-press 250 pounds.

His boss, Michael Moore, the store's general manager, said Brasco is a fantastic worker who is very personable with the customers and gets involved and leads the way in community service the store conducts.

"He's always there as far as somebody we can call in for help," Moore said. "I think that speaks to not only his dedication to work but how reliable he is."

Moore said Brasco is always ready to assist his co-workers.

Brasco said he's had to stop his co-workers from approaching customers who have stared at him. He just lets it slide.

"I'm just like you -- only shorter," he said.

Bill Brasco said his son takes everything in stride.

"He's never asked for pity and he's never complained," he said. "That's what makes him tick. He doesn't want to be singled out."

Recently, during a firefighter physical exam, the doctor told Brasco he shouldn't be a fireman because of his height.

"It was a pretty heated argument because he doesn't know me. He doesn't know what I can do. I'm just like everyone else. I just do things a little different," Brasco said. "It's just different things I might need help with. I'm not afraid to ask for help."

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