By STEPHEN JACKSON
Matthew Billa, or Matt as many people know him in the South Shore area, is a business owner and executive with a very interesting and inspiring back story. Currently Matt, a resident of Riverview, is co-owner and a working partner with his mom, Joley (nee Reedy) Billa, of Bob Billa’s Plumbing based out of Sun City Center. Pipes and water run in the family as Matt’s grandfather was Robert Reedy who, along with his brother, started Reedy Plumbing back in 1958.
After a life threatening, life-changing accident at birth, Robert and Joley Billa were told by physicians “to institutionalize” their newborn son Matthew.
That was back in 1977. The neurological specialist had a bleak, sad prognosis for little Matt and his family within days of his birth. An accident in the delivery room had resulted in severe, irreversible and massive damage, causing a brain hemorrhage to the back of little Matt’s head. The sad news was that Matt had cerebral palsy, Moebius syndrome, and a mind that would function far below a trainable level. In other words, Matt would be a vegetable, forever damaged and severely handicapped. He would never crawl, walk, talk or leave a wheelchair — or, so they said.
Defying all the experts, the Billas enrolled Matt into the United Cerebral Palsy Clinic in Tampa. Little helpless Matt started a daily routine of therapy: Speech, occupational and physical. Spiritual therapy was also provided on a daily and nightly basis, both from Matt’s parents and from within Matt himself. Instead of lawyering up and suing the hospital and the doctor responsible for Matt’s debilitating injuries, the Billas adopted a motto, which they embraced throughout Matt’s early life and into his adulthood, a motto which eventually led to an amazing, almost miraculous transformation, for Matt as well as his family. That motto, that oration, according to Joley Billa, was and is: “Jesus, I trust in You!”
Without this faith and hope, most parents and child so afflicted would have given up faced with such obstacles and challenges.
The cerebral palsy meant Matt was paralyzed on the right side of his body, making it impossible to drink milk or formula from a baby bottle. His parents had to hold his mouth closed and aim the nipple towards the functioning left side so he could swallow the life-sustaining liquid. His face was also deformed due to the paralysis. Only one side of his face moved when he cried. He could not close or blink one of his eyes. He underwent nine different surgeries to try to correct vision problems.
As Matt developed from a baby boy through childhood, it was difficult for him to sit or to stand up. He lacked the coordination of a normal child. He was enrolled in special education at the age of 5 or 6. Then Matt insisted that he wanted to be mainstreamed into a regular classroom. He wanted to ride a bicycle like his brothers. He wanted to learn how to swim. His mother Joley recalls that due to his loss of coordination Matt had to wear a variety of helmets to protect himself from constant mishaps.
“I began to realize that Matt was an extraordinary boy trapped inside a very challenging body,” she says.
The little boy became a teenager, still not ready to let his physical problems overwhelm him. “Imagine my shock,” said his mother, “when Matt, with one blind eye, horrible coordination, and deaf in one ear desired a driver’s license.
“He convinced us and even convinced the Department of Motor Vehicles … and got it eventually.”
Matt dug deep inside of himself, relying on the determination he learned from his father and the emotional support gleaned from his mother.
Unbelievably, he has skied 3,500 feet down snowy Vail Mountain in Colorado. He has received an associate’s degree from junior college. And to top it off, Matt, about 12 years ago, exhibited his reservoir of perseverance by graduating from the University of South Florida with a bachelor’s degree.
It’s easy to see that this guy is an overachiever who has not permitted his different abilities to define him.
Matt typically sees a problem and, instead of saying “the heck with it,” he comes up with a solution. In this case, sticking to his family’s tradition of the plumbing business, the problem homeowners were constantly experiencing with the dysfunctioning of their pullout kitchen faucet in their kitchen sinks.
Matt’s solution: The sink sack.
“The sink sack was about five years in the making,” says Matt now. His challenge was to address the problem that negated the “luxury” of having a pullout kitchen faucet. Through brainstorming and innovation, Matt has developed a significant upgrade to the standard side-spray faucet.
“The concept is simple,” says Matt, referring to his invention or modification. Matt points out that the sink-sack concept prevents the problem of hang-ups when using the flexible, extendable sink faucet.
“The sink sack provides the hose with its own housing beneath the cabinetry by simply hanging on the back of the cabinet beneath the faucet,” explained Matt with all the aplomb of a Thomas Edison exhibiting a light bulb.
Whether it’s his own invention or his solution to a problem, Matt has life experiences that have provided him with the wherewithal to handle the most mundane of life’s challenges when most people would just throw in the towel. Matt, calling on his innermost resources, takes it all in stride because he fully realizes that life is full of struggles, sorrows and — with divine intervention — the negatives can be transformed to success and joy.