Born without arms and abandoned in an orphanage, this young man has overcome great odds and shares his story through music.
“That armless guy” is the nickname on social media of George Dennehy, 26-year-old musician. People often choose online pseudonyms in order to have anonymity, but his points straight to him instead. For many years, George has been singled out as “that armless guy,” due to a congenital disability. Yet, despite his disability he has shown great talent: he plays cello, guitar and piano—with his feet.
George Dennehy was born in Romania and was immediately abandoned in an orphanage because of his severe disability. In addition to being born without arms, he was a very frail child, to the point that a death certificate had already been drawn up for him. According to reporter Kelsey Christensen of NBC16, “Weighing just 9 pounds at 18 months, George says a doctor hung a death certificate on his crib, telling the nurses to fill in the date when the time came.”
That time did not come. While we human beings can write what we expect to happen, there’s another Narrator who guides the story.
Although he spent three terrible years in that Romanian orphanage, he didn’t die. “They kind of despised me and left me in the corner and didn’t take care of me. I was quite literally written off, but my parents who adopted me, they didn’t write me off,” he told Christensen.
And this is what that little child, hastily labeled as irredeemable and consequently discarded, is capable of today.
Between that frail child at the orphanage and the young man of today with a beautiful voice lies a life that wasn’t easy. The happy ending didn’t come with the wave of a wand, thanks to being adopted, although his new family did everything they could for him. That was just the beginning of an arduous journey.
Today George’s music videos have millions of views on YouTube. He wants to raise awareness of the difficulties that abandoned children face and encourage adoption.
“Sadly, that’s just how it is in so many countries,” he told the NBC reporter. “Kids are just written off. Most people would never assume I was in an orphanage almost dead, but here I am now, and that’s the power that unconditional love and caring for just the unwanted has.”
The hard school of life
Moving from Romania to Virginia was a huge change for George, who finally entered a family where he wasn’t simply tolerated, but loved. But there was a world outside the four walls of the home: a world very hostile to people who are different.
His school years were a dark tunnel. He was bullied not only for his lack of arms, but also for the necessary adaptations he made.
For example, George remembers going with dread to the school cafeteria, which he tried to avoid as much as possible. He had learned to compensate for the absence of his upper limbs by using his lower ones, and so he ate using his feet, and the other kids would make fun of him. “Eventually, it got to me so much that I just stopped eating lunch all together at school because I was just so ashamed of the way I eat,” he says in a YouTube video.
Confronting despair is a watershed moment in many lives. Although visible and invisible allies stand beside those who face the temptation of despair, not everyone knows how to recognize the signs of their presence. George did, and his faith has become central to his life, as the video reflects.
His perspective changed, and he realized that how we deal with difficult situations is largely up to us. In the text accompanying the video, he says,
“... It really is a choice. It really is a choice of saying, ‘You know what, there are things in life that you just can’t control.’ There’s things that happen, you’re born a certain way. The only choice that we do have is how we’re going to respond to those things that happen to us, or the things that we’re born with.”
That’s the choice that we have. Whether we decide that we’re going to make the best of our situation, or we’re going to groan and complain. That’s on us.
Some friends with whom George shares his faith journey say that his presence today expresses this message loud and clear: “God is at work with my life. He has given me many things beyond the condition I was born with.”
To use a metaphor, you could say that from a life summarized in a hastily written document with a death sentence, George has gone on to a life described on sheet music full of praise. Yes, music is the way that he felt called to express the bright part of his soul. At the age of 8 he studied to play the cello, and then taught himself to play the guitar and piano. He says:
“And that’s what doing music means to me. It’s a place of hope, it’s a place of refuge … [M]y hope and my mission is that it just reaches people and inspires people to maybe take a step in their own mind. Maybe they’re going through something that’s been holding them back for so long and if my music, these songs can help them take the next step in their own pursuit of their own dreams, then … mission accomplished.”