[Thomas] Quasthoff’s early years demand a Dickens to do them justice. After an initial nine months at home, he spent a year and a half behind a glass wall of a hospital ward at the Annastift clinic in the West German city Hanover, where the doctors, baffled by this new species of birth defect [his mother had taken thalidomide], confined him for fear that his immune system could not fight off infection. His parents and his brother, Michael, who is two years older, would visit every Saturday and Sunday, but they were kept on the other side of the barrier. “We could give signs and laugh, but there was no possibility to speak to him,” says Michael, who is now a journalist. When Thomas was released to the family home in Hildesheim, a city near Hanover, he was accompanied by a large body cast in which he slept every night to correct the direction of his backward-facing feet. There was no expectation that he would ever be able to walk, but his parents refused to accept such a grim prognosis. Using pieces of milk chocolate as a lure, his mother enticed him to take a few steps, then a few more steps, until he was walking on his own. After a year, the plaster cast was no longer needed.
His parents were less successful in persuading one of the local schools to accept him. At 6, Thomas had to return to boarding school at the Annastift facility, where the mentally and physically handicapped were grouped together. His respites came on weekends, when his parents would faithfully bring him home. His other solace was in song. “In Annastift, the doctors said he was always singing,” Michael recalls. “And when he came home, he lay on the sofa or a chair and was singing at every time of day. When the radio played, he could sing all the songs from the beginning.” His parents sought a voice teacher as a way to boost his spirits. Singing was an activity in which he surpassed other children...
He has gone on to become an internationally acclaimed singer.
For an alternate link (single page), see here. I don't know what the current policy is at the New York Times, but in the past I've had trouble with their links either going bad or requiring a fee to see after a while. Fair warning.