My Hero is a new series designed to shine a spotlight on a person or group with special needs who dedicates their time to making the lives of other like people better in some way. These people are all heroes who spend their limited energy, resources and time to make the world a better, brighter, or more accessible place for people with chronic illnesses or have special needs. They don’t have to be a spoonie or zebra to qualify. They need only to serve those individuals in their work. My hope is that our readers will not only enjoy hearing about these everyday heroes, but will also learn about opportunities and services they’ve never heard of before. I also wanted to highlight that no matter how differently abled we each are, we’re all one big community. A community that frequently comes together to serve and bless one another with our good deeds!
Meet Breanna Sprenger, creator of Breanna’s Cards, a service that sends free ecards around the world to people with chronic health and mental illnesses. Breanna’s inspirational cards help lift the spirits of people with disabilities and let them know they are not alone. Breanna , a 17 year old from Avon, Ohio has done some pretty amazing things in her short life, including a career in Paralympic swimming despite battling several chronic illnesses and being born with missing limbs. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak more with this delightful, dynamic young woman about her accomplishments, her health conditions, and her future plans.
Breanna was born with Spina Bifida, Scoliosis and Caudal Regression Syndrome, missing both legs and her right arm. Spina Bifida, the most common disabling birth defect in the United States, is believed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Spina Bifida can cause defects of the spine, like CRS (SBA). Breanna has had 20 surgeries in her lifetime and has additional diagnoses of GERD, kyphosis, and neurogenic bladder and bowel dysfunction. She’s never let any of these conditions stop her from achieving big goals.
Breanna began swimming for the Paralympic team in 2012 and represented Team USA at the 2013 IPC World Championships and the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships. Breanna holds the American Record in the 200 back and the Pan American Record in 100 back for the S1 classification. You can learn a little more about her journey with paralympic swimming in the video below:
Keenly intelligent and always thinking of how she might give back, Breanna plans to attend the University of Akron after graduation and hopes to become a Child Life Specialist. She plans to study child development and psychology, preparing for a master’s degree in Child Life at UA. Child life specialists are pediatric health care professionals who work with children and families in hospitals and other settings to help them cope with the challenges of hospitalization, illness, and disability. They provide children with age-appropriate preparation for medical procedures, pain management and coping strategies, and play and self-expression activities. They also provide information, support, and guidance to parents, siblings, and other family members (Wikipedia).
Breanna’s advice to other young people with chronic illness and disabling conditions? “[Don’t] be defined by [your] conditions, and always try to find the silver lining.” Sage advice that’s exemplified in the way Breanna lives her life.
As a person with multiple disabling conditions, Brianna understands how hard it can sometimes be to stay positive. She wanted a way to help people with chronic conditions like herself overcome these tough times by providing messages of hope; “I came up with the idea from my own journey with living with multiple disabilities and illnesses. Everyone needs encouragement once in a while, and I wanted to give back to my community.”
In the first year of Breanna’s Cards, she’s sent over 1,300 cards to people and places as far flung as Finland, Australia, and New Zealand. Her messages spread hope and love, and her positive attitude and enthusiasm are positively infectious. In return, she says she gains satisfaction from knowing that she can help make someone’s day better by the simple gesture. She says it also made a lot of friends along the way and helps her to develop strong communication skills for her future career. She hopes to expand her card service to include children’s hospitals sometime in the future. Her goal is to provide paper cards with handwritten notes for kids, something her disabilities make difficult for her.
If you’d like to request a card from Breanna or simply lend support for her good works, she’s easily accessible through social media. Follow Breanna’s Cards to enjoy her inspiring posts, request a card for yourself or someone you know with a chronic health or mental condition you’d like to provide with some encouragement.
The Zebra Pit wants to recognize anyone who goes the extra mile for others despite having challenges of their own. The work can be either paid or volunteer, great or small. If you know someone who should be recognized (even yourself), send an email and let us know about them!