By Liz Collin

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A standout employee of the Minnesota Vikings is still on cloud nine after his Super Bowl surprise.

The Vikings surprised Michael Latawiec during a game in December with two tickets to Super Bowl LII. Michael only started working for the team this season, but his remarkable story resonates with everyone he meets.

We found out how some law school students have helped Michael find the freedom to chase his dreams and start making decisions on his own.

“For three years I was never held, touched, played with or had a toy. I just basically stared at my nose and that’s why I’m cross-eyed,” Latawiec said.

His heartbreaking beginnings were shared by thousands of others in Romanian orphanages. A WCCO series in 1990 documented the deplorable conditions.

Two years later, Michael was adopted by the Latawiec’s of Wyoming, Minn.

“I give my parents a lot of credit for raising me. They’re the reason I’m here today,” Michael Latawiec said.

Getting here hasn’t been easy. Struggling with developmental disabilities, Michael struggled in school. He came to believe he’d never be able to drive or a hold a job.

As in many cases like his, at 18, the court appointed his parents his legal guardians. But as he grew older, Michael began to thrive.

“Just because you have a disability does not mean you don’t have any abilities,” Latawiec said.

Latawiec has been busy winning medals at the World Special Jiu-Jitsu Championships, becoming a speaker for Special Olympics and even works as a driver. Michael is now charting his own course, thanks to a program at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.

“What we’re trying to prove to the court is that he was a normal guy and he didn’t need someone making these decision for him,” Bridget Welter said.

Welter and Alexus Anderson are second-year law students that worked on Michael’s guardianship case. His parents were on board to allow their son to retain some decision-making power for himself.

“They’re trying to help someone they love. It’s a good instinct and they’re told by a professional go to court, get a guardian and they don’t know, there could be a less restrictive option they could seek instead,”  John Kantke, St. Thomas adjunct law professor, said.

“That was my graduation pretty much right there that court room,” Latawiec said.

Michael’s able to sign contracts himself and travel alone. But perhaps the biggest difference the program makes is a psychological one for their clients, providing more confidence as they move forward.

As for those Super Bowl tickets? Michael gave them to his brothers, instead opting to work on Sunday at a job he loves.

The University of St. Thomas Law clinic is a partnership with Volunteers of America. In more than a year, students have taken on 15 different cases.  A hotline has also advised hundreds of others how to handle their guardianship issues.

Here is more information on Volunteers of America.

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