Tonight, 20/20 will feature the story of Brittney Bergeron Himel. While that story will doubtlessly focus on her inspiring tale of survival and perseverance, she’s also a very nice, normal kid.
Brittney was in one of my classes last year. At first, I was a little worried that having someone so well known in class would be a distraction to other students (Brittney’s tale has been widely told in Las Vegas for years), but it actually never came up at all. I’m not sure whether to attribute this to her peers being familiar enough with her to have gotten used to her dramatic story, or (as I fear) that they’re so ignorant of the world around them that they don’t recognize a regular face from the news even in the same room.
Brittney is a hard working student who took her grades and work seriously. She has great compassion for animals: any time the class got to choose their own books to read for class, she’d come in with something like James Herriot’s All Creatures Great And Small. One day, we were having a class discussion about whatever topics students wanted to bring up. The subject Brittney was concerned about: the then-recent reports of cruelty towards dogs by pro football player Michael Vick.
When she won a major wheelchair marathon, I congratulated her as she came into class the next day. She responded warmly, but in that slightly monotone way that most teenagers seem to have of interacting with adults; not disrespectful at all, but hardly passionate about carrying on a conversation.
However, soon afterwards when I saw on the news that her long legal battle to be adopted by her foster parents had finally been won, and I mentioned that to her the next day, she immediately got the biggest smile on her face. She really just lit up and, getting chirpy and bubbly, went on a bit about how great it was. That was by far the most excited I ever saw her.
And those parents are truly special people. Her foster mom (just regular “Mom,” now!) emailed me a few times last year to ask about classwork and tests. She wasn’t demanding any special treatment with grades or anything, just wanting to know how she could help and how Brittney could do her best. (Brittney passed the class with a grade well above average.) It was wonderful: she’s an involved mother who wants her daughter to achieve her potential.
Please do watch the show tonight, or at least read the story linked above. It’ll touch your heart. I wish this terrific family all the best in the years ahead!