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Today's Family Magazine

10-year-old boy inspires everyone around him

Feb 26, 2018 12:26PM

Liam Piotrowski and his father Mike at the St. Patrick's Day Parade in Downtown Cleveland.

By Donna L. Robinson

The Irish name, Liam, means strong-willed warrior, which perfectly describes 10-year-old Liam Piotrowski from Eastlake, who plays the bass drum in Cleveland’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, despite his physical and cognitive limitations.  At 3 1/2 months old Liam was diagnosed with Williams syndrome which is a genetic condition characterized by medical problems including cardiovascular disease, mild to moderate learning disabilities, unique personality characteristics, and distinctive facial features.

Children with Williams syndrome also have outgoing, engaging personalities and tend to have an affinity for music.  This also perfectly describes Liam.

Liam initially started at 7 years old learning the fife in the Jack McDonough Fife and Drum Corps (which consists of adults and children) at the Irish American Club - East Side (IACES), but was drawn to the rhythmic beat of the bass drum.  It was a good transition and he was able to learn the bass drum patterns pretty quickly.

At first, Liam’s parents, Bridget and Mike Piotrowski, worried about the noise causing him distress and anxiety, that he would not be able to focus to stay on beat, and that others would get frustrated when he needed more prompts and time to understand things.  But those worries were completely unfounded because everyone was supportive of Liam and wanted him to succeed.

“The first year of the parade was the hardest because of some medical conditions he was experiencing at the time.  He had his gall bladder removed a few days before the parade, but still wanted to march.  His dad had to carry him at the end, but he made it through with the full support of his bandmates.  Kids are so resilient,” said Bridget.

To prepare Liam for the practices, exhibitions, and marching in the parade (he will march in his fourth parade this year), Bridget and Mike review with Liam what will happen and remind him of his role and how he should act.  “This social story approach has worked well for us in all of our activities to set his expectations and facilitate smooth transitions.”

She adds, “Liam is a happy child and is happy to participate in all the activities for the parade.  He also has a condition known as hyperacusis, which can cause anxiety about the loudness, but the excitement definitely helps him overcome it.  He just loves being around people and derives energy from social situations.  While marching in the parade, he definitely loves seeing all the happy people playing to the music.  He’ll finish a set and announce, ‘I did it!’  So being in the parade is good for his self-esteem and development –– and for mine, too!  We have to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones so that we can continue to improve,” said Bridget.

Liam loves the St. Patrick’s Day holiday and knows he’s Irish.  “The celebrations with friends and family, and the music, are his favorite parts of the holiday.  The cultural part will mean more as he gets older, but for now he knows that he has lots of fun,” adds Bridget.

Liam’s grandmother, Linda Burke, was the president of the IACES for two years and says everybody is very impressed with Liam for his efforts.  "Liam has overcome so much adversity in his young life, and is an inspiration to all of us."

Bruce Greig, musical director for the IACES, said, “Liam is not treated differently than any other member of the unit with a keen interest in other musical groups.  His grandparents are heavily involved in many club activities, as are his parents.  Liam is truly a valuable part of our children’s parade unit.”