Gut wrenching anguish caused David Blommaert to nearly pass out in three terrifying attempts to sign the consent form allowing doctors to amputate his infant's limbs, fingers and toes. Appearing at first to be sick from a flu, baby Brittany was being suffocated by bacteria that was using up all the oxygen in her blood. Her lips turned blue, her body went into shock and purple patches formed all over her skin.
At only six months, Brittany fell prey to meningococcal septicaemia, a blood poisoning disease that hits hard and mercilessly. Of those who contract the disease, tragically 40 per cent die. Remarkably 40 per cent survive with few or no complications. Inexplicably 20 per cent are left to deal with major amputations and a life long battle of complications. These statistics only pertain to those diagnosed and treated within eight to 24 hours.
Even with a promising priesthood blessing, accompanied by the faith and prayers of family and friends, Brittany's father, having nothing to bargain with, began to negotiate with God. Fearing the possibility of brain damage in addition to a desecrated body, he would rather God take her. In the midst of this excruciating battle, David could barely process the doctor's assurance the bacteria was retreating. Brittany had beaten the odds.
Today you'll find a vivacious fourteen-year-old MIA Maid who writes, sings, dances, plays the piano, creates her own music, makes YouTube videos and acts. It was a highly unlikely outcome, but not surprising since Brittany's family failed to teach her 'you can't dance with only one foot'. Well, not quite a whole foot. Nor did they suggest, 'It isn't possible to play the piano with just one hand'. Well, not quite a whole hand. Plus, what's to sing about when you're faced with a lifetime of skin grafts, operations and constant taunts and mocking by thoughtless children at school.
Confident and determined, Brittany is an inspiration. People who truly know her don't see what's missing, except in themselves. She's as tough and resilient as anyone you'll ever meet. Just ask her best friends.
Emilia Morais, a friend since Nursery, is quick to declare, 'Brittany is a very buoyant girl, a righteous girl, a girl who likes to talk a lot and surrounds herself with uplifting friends that help her - a lot.' Emilia suggests Brittany chooses friends who are kind and respectful. She emphatically states that even when bullied, ”Brittany gets right back up and only cares what her friends think,' asserting, 'this comes from Brittany's trials'.
'Once in a while she has a hard time.', says Emilia. 'But she's completely normal. It's pretty sad people don't see that, actually.' Emilia says Brittany is 'a fearless missionary, bringing friends to Young Women's activities' and tells of Brittany befriending someone with similar interests and talents then gave her new friend a Strength of Youth booklet and a Book of Mormon. 'She's not shy.'
Siri Nelson, a non-LDS school friend since kindergarten says, 'Brittany just loves life and is fun to be around. Sometimes I forget she doesn't have her foot. You don't see those things. Brittany is bold and can talk her way out of a bad situation. If you see her act, she really gets into acting. She invites me to Young Women's. If she were able bodied she wouldn't be the person she is now. She had to learn to fight for her life. Brittany is crazy like every other teenager, only with a prosthetic limb.'
Community theatre producer/director Grant Tolley met Brittany when her sister Stephanie auditioned for a role. Grant asked Brittany if he could put her on stage. 'She just beamed.' Brittany was the first to be offered a part. So taken by Brittany as 'an absolute gem of a young woman', Grant made up a part for her. 'Never once did she have a negative word. Always positive, loving, kind and generous. I would adopt her if I could. She made my life better.'
Piano teacher Amy Moore said, 'If someone wants to learn, I want to teach them.' So began the crafting of endless modifications. Transposing keys, crossing out notes and simplifying arrangements allowed Brittany to play one or two notes with her right arm while playing chords with her left hand.
'Fun. Just so fun. I feel honoured to teach her. Brittany is just willing. Never distracted. When there's extra time, she's creating something on the piano. When Brittany wrote her own song for her recital, that was a first for me.'
Dance teacher Leanne Smetaniuk recounts how 'Brittany was just like a regular kid, only supercharged!' Modifying dance routines was unheard of. 'Brittany never said, 'Oh, I can't do that.' She just joined in.' Since Brittany had no idea there was anything wrong, she just grabbed the kid next to her and danced away. Always cheerful, positive, never a doubt. She could do anything.”
At the recommendation of her physiotherapist, Brittany was enrolled in the CHAMP (Child Amputee) Program sponsored by War Amps. Through their Winner's Circle, CHAMPs are mentored by older amputees and given opportunities to talk about social problems like teasing and bullying. They discuss self esteem issues all teens face like 'why me' and 'body image'.
Through the CHAMP Program and as an ongoing outpatient of the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital and having been treated by the Stollery Children's Hospital, Brittany has been interviewed and featured throughout her short life for newsletters, newspapers, TV news and featured in a fund raising telethon. Hospital staff nominated her for the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation's 'Award of Courage'.
Like any mother, JoEllen Blommaert would have gladly traded places with baby Brittany. One of the greatest blessings was how young Brittany was when she went through it all. 'She didn't have to relearn anything. This is all she knows.' Sometimes JoEllen gets caught off guard by people's reactions. 'I have to stop and think. Right! Ya! This is commonplace for us.' She had to realize how Brittany inspires them through overcoming trials and persevering. 'Not that I don't appreciate what Brittany's done.... It's our new normal. I hope I never come across as better than anyone else. We have a long way to go ourselves.'
What has this “miracle child” taught her mom? “It's our responsibility to learn and grow and help those around us. You can't hide your light under a bushel.”
Tender memories mingled with matters of fact are how her father David details Brittany's life. For example, he explains, 'the residual damage to Brittany's body causes her to use 50 per cen more energy to move than a normal person.' Then tempers his facts with anecdotes like, “When she was little, she would be completely exhausted, standing at the bottom of the stairs and say, 'Dad, I can't do it.''
'Until she's finished growing, ongoing surgeries are necessary for correction and maintenance because the growth plates were damaged. But, she's not handicapped! She's light years ahead of the others!' David admires Brittany's courage for wanting to sing and dance. He says, 'She's spunky and full of vinegar.' This entire ordeal has taught her father that he can “fight through anything.”
Does Brittany have a testimony? Of course, the answer is yes. 'It started when I got baptized” she says. “I thought it would be really cool to get guidance from the Holy Ghost and always felt He was right beside me, helping me along the way. I always know He's going to be there.'
Why you? 'To see if I would do the right thing and have Heavenly Father see how I would go through it and turn to him for help. I learned in Primary that if you need His help you can get it. Primary helped me a lot. Young Women's helped me understand even more. No one else is like me. I'm one in a million. I can stand up for myself and I'm not alone.'
What's your message to the world? “Never stop believing in yourself. You can do anything you want because The Lord is with you. Even with disabilities or no matter what people think of you.”
Most girls would hide away. But you show off and dance and sing with the rest of them. 'I was nervous at first. I put that away.'
The back story is Brittany's Mom and Dad and the insane life they lived rearing a girl, against the world's view of no hope, into a wonderful inspiration. The sacrifice of prayers, late nights, long days and tireless efforts kept a daughter of God from believing she was worthless. They raised a young woman who understands that what you have or don't have, what you look like or don't look like, has no bearing on your value as a Daughter of God. David and JoEllen were charged by God with a huge undertaking and they continue in that task, not only for Brittany, but for each of their children including Stephanie and Todd.
At a recent Seminary Graduation, President Jeremy Higginbotham, first councillor in the Millwoods Stake Presidency, recounted how he was moved by Brittany's recent piano recital, playing a song “she” wrote. If anyone could inspire young seminary graduates to achieve their dreams, let Brittany be their inspiration. While watching Brittany at a youth dance, he made an inspiring observation—whether anyone joins her or not, Brittany gets out there and dances.
Courage! Faith! A zest for life! Brittany Blommaert is evidence that even when the body is damaged, the spirit is unconquerable.