He makes singing look so easy, but many American Idol fans have learned Lazaro Arbos has a difficult time speaking. The Naples, Florida resident has a stutter, but that hasn't stopped him from sharing his voice.
What you might not know is Lazaro's journey to the Idol stage is thanks in part to the generosity of a complete stranger.
"We're delighted beyond words for Lazaro and his family," explains Martha Lopez-Anderson of Orlando.
Nine years ago, Martha was overcoming an incredible loss. Her 10-year-old son Sean collapsed while rollerblading, and never woke up.
"His heart was quivering," explains Martha. "Once paramedics were there, they were never able to regain a normal heart rhythm. Shortly thereafter, he was brain dead."
Just like Lazaro, Sean had a stutter. He was fitted with a noise-changing, hearing aide shaped device called a "Speech Easy." It works by manipulating how a patient hears himself.
"It is your voice, but a different frequency," explains speech therapist Janet Skotko. "Say you're speaking here (lower register), and then you go up (higher register)."
Martha says the device impacted Sean's ability to speak, but since he died, they were left with a device that was very expensive. Speech Easy devices can cost up to $4500, however, Martha thought someone else could Sean's. After countless searches, Janet connected Lazaro with Martha, and helped fit Lazaro for the device.
Over the years, Janet and Martha lost touch with Lazaro. Martha had since dedicated her life to helping children with hidden heart problems. She runs the Orlando-based non-profit "Saving Young Hearts." The group places AED's in schools and churches.
At a recent donation to the Lake Eola Charter School in Orlando, Martha said, "We knew there was nothing we could do to bring young Sean back. We knew there was a lot we could do to prevent another family from going through what we went through."
Saving young hearts has donated nearly 100 AED's over the past decade. However, it was Martha's donation of her son's "Speech Easy" that helped Lazaro find his voice.
"We were in Seattle, WA, when my cousin sent me a text and said I think that young boy that you donated the device to is on TV. He's on American Idol. We ran up to the room, and sat and watched," says Martha. "Luckily for us, it was one hour to wait and watch him, and sure enough it was Lazaro."
Lazaro was in front of a world audience, showcasing the one thing that brought him the greatest challenge.
"My first reaction was relief for him, happiness for him, joy... tears," observes Janet.
Both Janet and Martha say it only took minutes to see how much Lazaro has grown. They think he most likely outgrew the donated Speech Easy device, however, they hope it made it easier for him to speak. Both consider Lazaro a star, honoring Sean's legacy with every song he sings.
"I don't care how much he sweats, and how much he stutters, I see confidence in Lazaro," says Martha. "We're rooting for him, we're praying for him, and regardless of the outcome, we know this is going to be an amazing experience that is going to take him to a whole new level.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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