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Teen triumphs over 5 major surgeries

Ripon Christian High senior relies on faith, hope & love

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Teen triumphs over 5 major surgeries

Brittany O’Brien, 17, and her mom Tiffany Brower.

GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin/


POSTED October 27, 2013 11:12 p.m.

Brittany O’Brien had to climb five medical mountains in the form of major surgeries to reach her senior year at Ripon Christian High School.

The 17-year-old has demonstrated endless courage and determination from the time in second grade when teacher Cherie Andrese noticed signs of Dyslexia to years later when she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in January of 2011.  She eventually had to have her colon removed, her mother noted, with a total of 2½ frightening years in a hospital not knowing her future.

Brittany is looking forward to a college major in Early Childhood Development to become a “Child Life Specialist.”  She’s planning first to go to Modesto Junior College to get her general education out of the way and then take her final years either in San Diego or Santa Barbara.  She noted that a good friend Graelyn Pope is going to Santa Barbara this year as a freshman and she hopes to catch up with her in their junior year.

Brittany credited her younger sister Nicole for helping her through those surgeries when she was so frightened of the potential outcomes.

 “She talked down to me to be good when I was scared,” she remembers. 

Of five major surgeries, the first was in April of 2011, the second in July and the third in August of that year.  One was at the California Pacific Medical Center where colon rectal surgeons came from the University of San Francisco Medical Center to perform the operation.

The final two surgeries were performed at a clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, leaving her without the need to wear a colostomy bag for life. 

“When they removed her colon in San Francisco, it failed and it was causing major problems to her circulatory system,” her mother said. 

Stanford deemed the surgery too difficult and sent her to Ohio.

Her Ohio surgeon said following the final surgery that it was the “toughest case of his life.”  Brittany remembers him telling her, “Life is for living and you are going to have a long one!”

She was required to have an intravenous feeding tube for months in the hospital and was not allowed to eat solid foods. 

“I kept watching the Food Network in the hospital and wanted mom to eat in front of me so I could enjoy the smell,” she chuckled.  “Mom would eat things she knew I didn’t like, so as not to tempt me.”

Before they made the costly trip to the Cleveland clinic, the First Christian Reformed Church of Ripon’s membership staged a fundraiser for them the night before they left covering all their costs while they were gone with their daughter.

In January 2012 – a year after her first surgery – she was hosted to a Caribbean trip on the ship Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas when she and family members sailed to St. Martin and St. Thomas. 

“I was treated like a princess, got everything free and was waited on – it was awesome,” she remembers.  Going onto the ship with her were her brother Austin, sister, Nicole, mom and step-dad.  Also on board were her dad and step-mom.

Another of her favorite memories was when school principal Maryann Sybesma and teacher Pete Duyst  drove to the hospital in San Francisco to see her.  She said either her dad or step-dad would escort them up to her room when they came.

Back in the eighth grade at Ripon Christian Junior High School she had chosen Psalm 139 as her theme long before she got sick.  A part of that reading “fearfully and wonderfully made” stayed with her during her medical traumas.

And, in the end, she gave her gastro entomologist at the San Francisco hospital a fat lip when she returned to that campus after her last surgery bringing Teddy bears for patients.  She said she was so excited to see Dr. Antonio Quiros down the hall that she ran up and gave him a hug, unintentionally hitting him in the lip as she swung her arms around his neck.

Brittany has remembered the hundreds of “boring” days she spent in bed and the two people who tried their best to entertain her during those times.  One was another patient – a 19-year old named Uchechi – who played “Amazing Grace” for her day after day at bedside.  The other was “Jack the Harpist” who came to their room two days a week spending 20 minutes on the strings with the two of them.  She found out later that her teenage musician friend in the hospital had passed away. 

In May of last year – as a high school junior – Brittany joined her classmates and teachers in the annual Ripon Christian trip to Washington, D.C.  Most of the time she rode in a wheel chair that is no longer required for her to get around.

Her senior year, she sees as a blessing in itself – not knowing if it would ever be realized.

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