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D-B student born with genetic condition continues to defy odds

Leigh Ann Laube • May 28, 2013 at 9:23 PM

For 18 years, Joseph Mattioda has proven wrong the doctors who told his parents that he would never walk or talk.

Born with Velo-cardio-facial syndrome (VCFS) — a genetic condition that can cause problems including cleft palate and other differences in the palate, heart defects, problems fighting infection, low calcium levels, differences in the way the kidneys are formed or work, a characteristic facial appearance, learning problems, and speech and feeding problems — Joseph is the middle of five sons born to Mark and Mary Mattioda and a rising senior at Dobyns-Bennett High School.

When he was elementary age, he began to show an interest in the culinary arts. He’s learned to cook some simple dishes using the microwave, and at 2 p.m. on June 10 he will prepare some of those dishes during “What’s Cooking with Joseph” at the IPMC Health Resources Center on the upper level of the Kingsport Town Center.

His mother said Joseph wasn’t diagnosed with VCFS as a newborn. A general practitioner had told his parents he had developmental delays, but after the birth of his brother Kurt, when Joseph was 2, a pediatrician suspected there was something more going on with him.

Ninety percent of patients with VCFS are missing a small part of their chromosome 22, and Joseph isn’t an exception. VCFS is sometimes hereditary, but not in Joseph’s case. He was born with two holes in his heart; one is closed now and the other is functional. He’s had intensive speech therapy, as well as occupational and physical therapy.

He attended Early Childhood Learning Centers at East Tennessee State University and Washington Elementary School, then St. Dominic Catholic School and Robinson Middle School before hitting high school.

It was during his sophomore year at Dobyns-Bennett that he discovered the culinary arts program. It was a chance to expand on what he had already been learning at home.

“He was maybe 10 or 11 and he started trying to cook stuff,” Mary explained.

Joseph, however shy, lists his favorite foods to cook: “Macaroni and cheese. Cheese roll-ups. Chicken nuggets. Hot dogs. Strawberry shortcake.”

He’s also learned to peel and cut potatoes to make deep-fried potato chips. He’s allowed to use his home microwave and stove with supervision. Through DB’s culinary arts program, he’s studied the different kinds of stocks and spices, learned how to make pasta, and learned to clean dirty pots and pans. He wants to continue his study of culinary arts in college.

During “What’s Cooking with Joseph,” he’ll become Chef Joseph, while Reid Harris will act as his assistant. Because Joseph is so shy, he’ll prepare the food while Reid explains the technique. Joseph’s menu will include salad with three cheese ranch dressing, cucumbers and tomatoes; chicken and cheese quesadillas; cookies; water and lemonade.

The meal, Mary said, is an example of what people with Joseph’s abilities can prepare on their own.

“It’s simplicity. You can still have a good meal and it be healthy,” she said.

Joseph’s interests extend beyond cooking. He worked for two years at Marquee Cinema in the Kingsport Town Center before it closed, and he’s been a scorekeeper for Kingsport Parks and Recreation for three years. He also moves the chains during DB’s freshman football games. For the past six or seven years, he’s participated in Special Olympics.

The cooking event is free, but pre-registration is required by calling 1-800-888-5551.

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