STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. - Ahmed Shareef sits at a keyboard and with one hand, plays 'Stairway to Heaven." It's a far cry from the songs he heard as a child growing up in Iraq, but it's the kind of music the 21-year-old loves making.
The Iraqi refugee is a talented musician, despite losing his sight and an arm in an explosion when he was seven.
"I didn't know piano player need two hands. I didn't focus on that, oh piano player. So I had this one hand and I was playing around the piano," Shareef said.
Ahmed's injuries occurred as he and a friend were walking home from school near Baghdad and a bomb went off.
The U.S. military referred him to a Staten Island charity, the Global Medical Relief Fund, which arranged for surgeries giving Ahmed prosthetic eyes and an arm.
NY1 first met him 14 years ago on his second trip to the U.S. Even then music was his thing.
“When I started playing around the piano, it became my interest; my toy. I want to play around it. And I'm glad that I chose that," Shareef said.
He learned to play mostly through listening.
With his future in Iraq bleak, Ahmed’s mother let the Global Medical Relief Fund’s founder take guardianship.
He moved to Staten Island, obtained asylum and enrolled at Curtis High School. Joining the jazz band his teacher was excited for the chance to work with him.
"Usually, a piano player use the left hand for the base notes and the right hand for the higher notes. So I found a way to do both sounds," Shareef said.
Two years ago, Ahmed formed a band — Blind Ambition — performing twice a week at a local bar and at special events including a Knicks game at Madison Square Garden.
And at Radio City Music Hall to standing ovations.
"When he gets up and plays everybody is like videoing him. He doesn't see it. But everybody is there with their phone and they’re telling this person - you have to see this kid; he's amazing," said Elissa Montanti of the Global Medical Relief Fund.
Ahmed is just at the beginning of his musical career. Besides playing the piano, he can also play the organ, the melodica, and he's currently learning to play guitar.
"For me is a way of telling the world, here I am. No matter what it is, I'm happy. I've been through a lot and I don't think about anything in the past. That's my music and that's what I do," Shareef said.
Ahmed works at a language school in Midtown, helping immigrants like himself learn English.
He's weighing a music scholarship offer from Manhattanville College.
Whatever he decides he says music will be a big part of his life.