LOUISVILLE, Ky (WDRB) -- When you meet 18-year-old Nathan Smith and watch him play the piano, you can’t help but be amazed. You are drawn to his witty personality, genuine kindness, and unbelievable ability to play the piano. If you close your eyes and listen to his music, you’ll notice Nathan can make a piano sing just like Billy Joel. But, Nathan’s hands are different. He was born with a rare birth defect called VATERS Association.
“Everybody notices his hands and arms. He's missing a radius bone in each arm, which caused his thumb and index finger to not develop on his hands,” said Dawn Smith, Nathan’s mother.
Spend a few minutes talking to Nathan, and you will quickly realize that he’s just a normal teenager. He knows that; his friends and parents know that, and he wants everyone else to know that, as well.
“I don't see anything about myself as an obstacle. I just think of it as, ‘I can do anything I want; I just need to find a different way of doing it.’ I work at it until I find a way, and when I find that way, I keep on working on it until it's comfortable,” said Nathan.
The 18-year-old started playing the piano three years ago and is gaining a following for his musical talent.
“Anything from having a bad day to an actual illness or injury, music can help that injury go away much faster. It gives happiness, and it’s a healer,” said Nathan.
He taught himself to play the piano and started taking lessons at Maxwell’s House of Music in Jeffersonville, Indiana, last year.
“I was kind of thinking, ‘I don't know if I can do this,’ but sat down and took my shot at it. Every day I got a little better. I started off playing Mary Had a Little Lamb--simple stuff like that. Every day, I added more, and I got more comfortable,” said Nathan.
Now he’s playing songs from artists like Billy Joel and Elton John. The first song Nathan ever performed in front of a crowd was Piano Man.
“My heart was racing; my stomach was very sick. I just had a hard time watching him. He performed for the high school choir concert. We live in a small town, but there were a lot of people in the auditorium. As a parent, you want your child to be the best, especially when the world is seeing them. You want the world to see them in their perfection in whatever they are doing,” said Nathan’s mother.
When Nathan sat down to play, people were quiet and didn’t know what to think.
“I made mistakes, but it seemed like no one cared. When I was done playing, everyone was on their feet, and they gave me a standing ovation. It felt amazing! I felt like I was on top of the world,” said Nathan.
His parents say he’s everything they could ever want in a son. They admire his spirit and positive outlook on life.
“He has made me so proud. He has taught me a lot as a person,” said Nathan’s mother.
“I'm proud of his musical ability, but I’m also proud of him achieving Eagle Scout rank in Boy Scouts. I was happy and pleased to go on that journey with him as his leader and father,” said Jonathan Smith, Nathan’s father.
Nathan had this message for anyone who watches or reads his story.
“Go out there and try to find what you love. It does not have to be music. Whatever you love, you are going to be good at, and whatever you love is going to bring you happiness. Something that I try to never say is, ‘I can't do it.’ I try to never say that. My dad is trying to play the guitar. He said, ‘I can't do this.’ He said, ‘I can't get this chord down.’ I said, ‘Don't say that because I know you can,’” said Nathan.
Nathan will attend Indiana University Southeast in the spring and study music education.
He also hopes to one day preform on Broadway.
Photojournalist Dalton Rinehart and Reporter Sterling Riggs worked together to produce this story.
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