Matthew Stutzman was born in Kansas City, Kansas on December 10, 1982 without arms. Otherwise healthy in every way, Matt simply developed in this manner without medical explanation. According to 1982 statistics, this event occurred in 1 of 350,000 births. Overwhelmed with the idea of raising this special child, Matt’s birth parents put him up for adoption when he was four months old. In late January of 1983, the Leon Stutzman family of Kalona, Iowa brought 13 month old Matthew home for adoption. As his new mother, I had traveled to Shriner’s hospital in St. Louis where he was to be fitted with his first ever prosthetic arms. He learned to work his new arms in two days (the doctor said it would take a week). Matt cheerfully adjusted to his new family and surroundings immediately. The slick wooden floors of the old farm house were great for scooting around on until he learned how to walk. Before he graduating to scooting, he would roll everywhere. Matt learned to walk and feed himself when he was 18 months old.
Our family strategy was to allow Matt the freedom to try almost anything if he could accomplish it under his own steam. The natural tendency would have been to rush in and help him. He liked to climb up in a tree or up in the haymow and even up into the tractor. I remember the landlord would set this five year old boy on his lap and let him drive his John Deer tractor around the fields. Matt liked to help on the farm as much as he could, he would carry five gallon buckets of feed to the calves, went fishing with his father and brother’s. Matt enjoyed playing soccer, basketball, football, and volley ball; in short, Matt’s life was full of action and people. Matt learned to handle life without special accommodations. This would enable him later in life to go and do anything he put his mind to.
Matt’s father was the principal at a small Christian school in Kalona where Matt worked at his desk by sitting on a bar stool so it gave him the proper height to do his school work with his feet. In 1991, Matt learned how to ride a bike in a lumber yard parking lot. He would lean his chest on the handle bars and away he would go. Shortly after that Matt grew some interest in music and wanted to play guitar. So we took him to meet Tony Melendez who was also born without arms, and he showed Matt how to play the guitar. Matt picked it up fast and soon was playing in some school competitions in which he won a couple times.
Matt loved the outdoors and soon taught himself how to shoot a gun which meant attending a hunters safety course; soon after that he would sit on the porch and I would watch him shoot a hole in a penny at 30 and 50 yards. About this time he also became interested in archery so he could go bow hunting with his father. Leon took Matt up to the local hunting store (Fin and Feather) when Matt was 16 and agreed to pay for half of the bow. Matt went to work doing odd jobs to earn money to purchase the bow, once he purchased the bow he started practicing and taught himself how to shoot the bow accurately.
By now the issue of a drivers license had surfaced. The local public school system refused to cooperate so Matt had to take a couple of driving test for a driving evaluator and after two years of fighting the system, Matt finally got his driver’s license. Matt uses his left foot to operate the brake and gas pedals, his right foot is used to turn the steering wheel, shift the car, turn on the blinkers and adjust the lights.
During this time Matt had become increasingly irritated at being treated as a disabled person by people who didn’t know him, this irritation and restlessness of his late teen years of wanting to become independent, the difficulty of finding a job propelled Matt down a path of hard knocks, run-ins with the law and behavior he does not recommend to other young people. Matt moved out on his own when he was 19. Over the next several years Matt got his life back on track, he worked as a new and used car sales man, worked at a printing and graphics company and did some odd jobs here and there when he could get hired.
He married Amber Schaller and has three sons Carter, Cameron and Alex. For you see Matt does not see himself as disabled.
He’s a dad, who fixes bottles changes diapers, cooks, fixes cars, and does yard work. He likes hunting, fishing, and camping, boating and spending time with his family. The usual – just doing it all with unusual abilities in unique ways and a desire to experience life.
Written by JEAN STUTZMAN mom