Asta was born with a condition known as Arthrogryposis which means Joint contractures that develop before birth (prenatally) and are evident at birth (congenitally).
A newborn with Arthrogryposis lacks the normal range of motion in one or more joints. In normal embryonic development, the joints begin to develop by about 5 to 6 weeks of gestation. There are joint spaces by 7 weeks, and the limbs can be seen moving by 8 weeks. This motion of joints is clearly essential to the proper development of the joints and structures around the joints. Limitation of joint motion before birth leads to joint contractures. Asta’s condition is not down to any genetic condition and he can live a long and normal life.
Both Asta’s parents were working in Miami. Brenda, Asta’s mother had a normal pregnancy and even attended birth classes to have a natural birth, her first pregnancy with Simon involved a caesarean section.
With Asta she was under a pioneering obstetrician (Dr Garcia who was all for natural births after C section.
On the night of his birth it became apparent that the baby was struggling and Brenda was rushed into the operating theatre. Her husband Dermot and the midwife waited outside for six hours until Dr Garcia came to see them with an ashen face. The baby had been born with massive complications.The Doctor was visibly shocked and tearful. The baby was rushed off to Variety children’s hospital in South Miami for intensive care.Brenda was sedated and knew nothing about the birth and it was left to Dermot to break the news to Brenda when she recovered from the operation. They were both devastated.
The Doctors at the Variety Children’s hospital advised them to name the baby as there was a massive chance that he would not survive. Brenda was still recovering from the operation so it was left for Dermot to choose. He remembered a story he had been told about a young spiritual Master from India in the olden days, the Master’s name was Ashata Bakra. Ashata was disabled from birth; Dermot shortened the name to Asta. At this point Dermot didn’t know Asta had been born in a lotus position with crossed legs and finger touching thumb on both hands.
Whilst visiting his son for the very first time Dermot was approached by the hospital authorities and told that they had secured a place in a children’s home for Asta without his consent. They had assumed Dermott and Brenda wouldn’t want him. How very wrong they were.
Dermot rushed back to tell Brenda all about Asta and when Brenda was fully recovered both she and Dermot went to pick Asta up.
On the way home they drove over McArthur causeway and they noticed a large banner over the motorway which said in clear letters, “Miami Welcomes Asta.” Brenda couldn’t believe it and was convinced that somebody ‘up there’ was giving her courage and hope. Dermot’s sister went back and took a photo of the banner which they still have to this day. They found out later that ‘Asta’ stood for the ‘American Society of Travel Agents’. Was this just a coincidence, or had that convention been there that week as part of a divine plan? They have always said it made them feel that God was on their side!
As time went on life only got better, Asta had numerous operations to straighten out his legs so he could sit in a wheelchair, he made friends with Bill Lehman, a well known American Congressman. A story was written about them in the Miami Herald, titled ‘The Congressman and the Kid’. Bill authorised a flag to fly over the Whitehouse for Asta which was a wonderful honour and very special moment for him. The ‘Lehman Causeway’ in Miami is dedicated to the Congressman. Asta still misses Bill who unfortunately passed away a few years ago.
Dermot says that Asta has changed his life and he says that waking up everyday has been a bonus since his birth. Asta never complains and his favourite saying is he loves life.
Asta is an ardent campaigner on behalf of all disabled people and is not scared of saying exactly what he thinks when he is invited to debate a variety of issues on radio.
In 2007 Asta gave the world a small snapshot into his life through his BBC documentary under the One Life Strand, titled ‘For One Night Only’ in which he persuaded two other disabled guys to join him in an encounter and enjoy a sexual experience in a legal Spanish brothel whilst being followed by the BBC.