MC: People stare at John Coutis every time he steps out of his house. He certainly looks very different. He only has half a body. He knows his appearance is confronting, but we suspect you’ll admire him as much as anyone who’s ever met him. Marguerite McKinnon has his story.
John Coutis is used to people staring at him. He knows they have questions. Why does he have only half a body? How did he have a child? And, is that his wife? The reality is so much more extraordinary than anything anyone could imagine.
John: I was meant to be dead the day I was born. The doctors told my mom and dad, “He’s gone.” There’s no explanation why it happened, or how it happened. You know, people thought it might have been 1)thalidomide, or things like that.
From day one John’s legs were useless. The lower part of his 2)spine didn’t develop, a severe disability doctors didn’t understand, let alone those around him. John was determined to prove that having half a body didn’t mean living half a life.
John: I think the elder generation, even still today, they see that I’ve got no legs and think that I’m a 3)spastic as well. People from overseas, they come here for holidays or just maybe might see me on my skateboard, and run up and give me money, think that I’m begging.
For the record, John has all his organs. He could use a wheelchair, but prefers a skateboard. It’s easier to get around. He can’t use 4)prosthetic legs because his hips won’t support them. And, if you’re curious about an often-asked question about his toilet habits …
John: The same way you do. My brothers used to always leave the toilet seat up, always. I remember as a kid and I used to go to the toilet and the toilet seat was up in the dark, I’d climb on to go to the loo there’s no seat and I’d fall in.
Leanne: He’s so handsome, and he’s a 5)spunk. You know he’s a good-looking guy. As I said, he has a presence. You can pass a dozen people in the street and there’ll be always that one person that you’ll look at and think, “Gosh, I’d like to get to know them.” I got to know John. Yeah, I’m lucky. I am the lucky one, actually.
John and Leanne were married six years ago.
John: A family friend actually brought me around to see Leanne, and the rest is history. I came around here for morning tea and it all went from there, didn’t it really? It was lovely. It was really, really nice.
Leanne: Sometimes, like if John’s in front of me and I’ve stopped, as you do, check out clothes racks, or whatever else. And then John’s kept going, as I’m catching up to John you do see people walk past and stop and, “Did you see that? What happened?” You know, all these sorts of comments. And I just sort of think, “There’s my 6)hubby. It’s cool.”
John: And I know people think, “What is she doing with that?” You can feel that. I mean, it doesn’t bother me, I know what she’s doing with me.
Leanne: I do get those comments, like, “How come you chose somebody to be with, you had a choice to back out when you first met. Why did you continue having a relationship with somebody like John?” And, I mean, the simple answer was, yet again, he’s the person that he is. He’s who he is and that’s who I fell in love with. I didn’t fall in love with somebody with no limbs, I fell in love with John. I mean, what do you love with, your heart. Your heart’s up here, not down below.
John’s positive outlook has made him one of the world’s most popular motivators. In Asia, he’s a superstar. Tickets for his live show are snapped up in minutes. Audience often number fifty thousand.
John: I like to offer people hope, resolution, you know. I like to show them that if I can do it, anyone can do it, you know.
He’s shared the stage with some of the world’s most influential people: Nelson Mandela, 7)Ge-neral Norman Schwarzkopf, and 8)Steve Waugh. But John’s hero is closer to home. This is his stepson, Clayton. Born with 9)cerebral palsy, 10)fluid on the brain and 11)autism,mom Leanne was told he’d never walk, talk, eat, or drink. But it soon became clear, Clayton was brilliant. This video was taken when he was five. He’s teaching his teachers about a new computer program they’ll use to educate other children. Clayton is now thirteen. He calls John “Dad,” John calls him “son.”
John: To see Clayton the way he was, and the way he is now. Holy cow! Absolutely 12)mind-blowing.
Clayton feels the same way about his dad.
Clayton: I think that dad’s just absolutely amazing. That he has the courage to say, “This is what I’ve got, let’s face it.”
John’s about to start a nine-week national speaking tour. It’ll be the longest time he’s been apart from his family. If you see him in your city, and find yourself staring, that’s OK, but John would rather you come up and say hello.
John: If I had legs even for an hour, and there were three things I could do, you know what I’d do? I’d take my wife dancing. And go and play “footy” with my son. Wouldn’t care about anything else. That’d be the only two things I would do. ’Cause I know my wife likes dancing, and I know my son likes kicking a ball around.