Teen with Down’s Syndrome Saves Girl from Drowning

When he was just 3 years old, Valerio Catoia took up swimming. The young Italian has Down’s syndrome, a condition where those affected are known to suffer from muscle weakness. Swimming was a great way, his family thought, of developing muscle strength whilst learning how to fend for himself in water. Now 17 years old, the teenager has built a glittering swimming career for himself that has brought him all the way to the Special Olympics. His family and friends are bursting with pride witnessing the heights the young athlete has reached in his career. Yet nobody would have anticipated that his high-level swimming ability would one day lead him to saving the life of a girl, skyrocketing him to the status of overnight hero in his home country of Italy.

Valerio was enjoying a casual afternoon spent on Sabaudia Beach in the Italian region of Lazio, with his father and a younger sister.  Suddenly, he heard two girls, aged 10 and the other 14, cry out desperately for urgent help. The two young sisters were being forcefully and rapidly dragged out to sea and despite their frantic attempts, they couldn’t reach the shore.  Without a second thought, Valerio and his father leapt into the water to save them. Valerio, having completed a first aid course, was able help the younger girl, positioning her so that her head would stay above water. His father, emulating Valerio, did likewise. The lifeguards positioned on the beach had also raced to the scene, but young Valerio and his father had reached the girls first.

The remarkable event quickly made headlines in Italy, as countless newspapers told the story of Valerio’s truly heroic act saving a 10-year old from drowning.  According to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, the 17-year-old athlete became a champion of “generosity and courage” that afternoon, as well as a star of the social media realm.

Former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi applauded the teenager’s bravery, telling Italians they should be filled with pride to have citizens like Valerio. Italy’s Sports Minister Luca Lucie furthered ‘official’ praise for the boy, congratulating him warmly on his selfless efforts. Before Valerio returns to school in the autumn, he will go back to his summer training routine and his pursuits with the scouts. Valerio is trying his best to return to normal life, yet the whole of Italy has been consumed talking about his heroic deed for days now. Valerio claims his newfound fame has not changed him, but it has changed those around him for the better.

This is a beautiful story of immense courage and true selflessness. Not only is Valerio being hailed as a hero due to his bravery, but he has also become a shining example of overcoming obstacles in the face of adversity. This ‘adversity’ is not exactly Down syndrome itself, as a hereditary condition which presents undeniable health problems. Rather, it is society’s attitude towards Down syndrome and people with the condition. This attitude is one of old-fashioned, out-dated regression which views Down’s syndrome as an unescapable barrier to living a fulfilled life. This is obviously very far from the truth – we are seeing more and more people with the condition embracing life to the fullest, accomplishing remarkable feats and also living out normal life like the rest of us, complete with all of its joys and its struggles.

The tragic and prevalent ignorance surrounding the condition has lead us down a very dangerous path – 90% of unborn children in the UK with Down’s are aborted whilst the figure is 100% in Iceland and 98% in Demark. This targeted and systematic killing of those whom our society views as somehow ‘less worthy’ amounts to nothing less than mainstream eugenics and is a grave blot upon the conscience of the Western world.

As discrimination against those with Down’s syndrome continues, it is crucial that we see and hear more and more of the wonderful, generous, incredible people who have the condition living out the fulfilled lives which God willed for them and which they are deserving of.  Stories like that of Valerio Renda’s recent heroic deed bring home the importance of building a society where every life is recognized as precious, irreplaceable and unrepeatable.

Precious Life will continue working to promote a society which understands that life is not a privilege for the planned or the perfect. With your ongoing support, we will keep abortion not only illegal in Northern Ireland but also unthinkable.


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