Monday, March 14, 2011

Brady: Still the Greatest Gift

If there were a merit badge for smiling, Brady Thompson would have earned it. Photo: Ashley Franscell

 By the time I met him, Brady Thompson was a young man of few words.

Telling his story over the course of the three and a half years I knew him, however, took many words — over 20,000, in fact. That’s because the way Brady chose to accept the daily challenges of his life — despite suffering from a debilitating and undiagnosed disorder which caused him hundreds and up to a thousand seizures per day — spoke volumes about the human condition.

Brady had trouble speaking in complete sentences. He often struggled to labor through incomplete phrases in a stammering, halting voice that seemed to require all the energy his frail body could muster. Those that knew him well, though, could usually glean the translation of what he was trying to say by looking in his eyes — which were often full of mischief, despite his precarious health.

In Brady’s world, words were often overrated. Friendship, love, determination and courage, however, were not.

Photographer Ashley Franscell and I told Brady’s story in the Daily Herald in three main segments. The first was "Brady: The Greatest Gift," a 40-page, tabloid-style special section. The online edition includes the individual chapters of the story (available by clicking on each one in the list on the right side of the page), a narrated photo slideshow (in the center), and five video components (click on the photos on the left hand side of the page).

We also did a follow-up feature to update readers 12 months later, titled "Brady: The Greatest Gift, One Year Later." And, lastly, a final feature when Brady eventually succumbed to his disease, passing away on Sept. 3, 2010, at the age of 18. That story was titled "A Life to Remember."

Taking its cues from our coverage, Brigham Young University recently produced an 8-minute documentary on Brady, recreating some of the special experiences late in his life, that I recommend as an introduction to this remarkable teen. You can watch that here.

I’ve interviewed some of the world’s greatest athletes, rock musicians and celebrities during a journalism career spanning 25 years (so far). None of them have affected me more than Brady, a simple spirit in many ways, but a giant among men as a teenage boy. I view the opportunity to share his story as a continual privilege.

There are many parts and nuances to Brady's story which, for whatever reason, ended up on The Editing Room Floor. I look forward to sharing more of those when the time is right.

In the meantime, here’s a brief personal synopsis I wrote at the close of our first special section on Brady on Dec. 25, 2007. For some reason, it is not included in our online coverage package, so I am adding it here. I think it makes a good entry point into his story, for those who are unfamiliar with it.

Here it is:

Brady introduced me to the singing buck on the wall of his bedroom during our first official visit on Feb. 26 [in 2007].

It’s one of those quirky novelty items, you know, where the head bobs, sways and lip-syncs to a pre-recorded song — in this case, a version of the Garth Brooks tune “Friends in Low Places.”

As Brady laughed while he danced and grooved to the music, I found a few of the song’s lines straight-to-the-heart appropriate from what I had already learned about this remarkable young man — in spite of the absurd fact that these nuggets of inspiration were emanating from the mouth of a phony trophy deer.

“But you’ll never hear me complain ... ’cause I’ve got friends in low places ... I’m not big on social graces ... ’cause I’ve got friends in low places.”

It turned out that the singing buck had another trick up its ... er ... um ... upper torso — which also can conveniently be triggered by a microphone. That allows the deer’s mouth to move and “speak” anything that is said into the microphone.

Brady’s father, Darrell, showed me how it worked.

“Hey, where’d my butt go?” the deer head said in mock outrage.

It was at that precise moment I knew the Thompsons were my kind of people.

I spent countless hours with Brady and his family over the past 10 months.

I treasure every one of them.

It is said that a person’s eyes are a window to their soul. If so, Brady’s soul offers a high-definition view of grit, happiness, determination and an endearing sense of humor — remarkable traits all, for someone facing his daily trials.

In addition to all the other things I learned about Brady, I know that he loves chocolate, his nickname is “Buddha Man” and if a visitor stays too long that he will not hesitate to point toward the front door and say, “Go!”

There have been many of what the world would call coincidences in the quick life of Brady Thompson. Another literally happened as this project was closing in on deadline. The last-minute occurrence helped culminate a seven-month effort to find Brady’s birth mother — to give her the opportunity to know this incredible individual while he still haltingly walks among us.

Yes, Brady may have friends in low places — but you can’t convince me he doesn’t have them in high places, too.

Note: All of our newspaper's content on Brady Thompson can be found here.

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