Rare bone disease can't stop GRC student from achieving her dreams
Rebecca Perritt greeted a friend on her way through the foyer of George Rogers Clark High School on the way to her music class. Perritt uses a ramp and goes through the library to avoid the hallway stairs to get to many of her classes. (Photo by James Mann)
For 17-year-old George Rogers Clark sophomore Rebecca Perritt, who had her first broken bone when she was three weeks old, it’s not a very big deal anymore.
Rebecca, was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI), or brittle bone disease, and has had more than 200 fractures thus far.
Osteogenesis Imperfecta, which affects almost 50,000 people, is a genetic disorder that affects the collagen in the bones. Other characteristics of the disease are brittle teeth, blue sclerae of the eyes, curved bones, loose joints and short stature.
But even though she tends to break easily, Rebecca has an unbreakable spirit that won’t let her OI stop her from doing the things she likes to do.
On any given day she can be found among the hundreds of other George Rogers Clark High School students laughing and talking as they hurry through the halls of the school during breaks between classes.
The fact that she is even alive, much less able to attend school like other kids, is a miracle in itself, because when she was born her parents were told she wouldn’t live long.
“The doctor in Georgia where we were living at the time told us we were taking Rebecca home to die, that we needed to make decisions on organ donation and life support and all that,” said her mother Cheryl Pena. “But when we moved back to Winchester, the doctor here told us even if she had a short life, we
should give her a life. So we’ve lived life that way. We did what we could do to find ways of making her life as normal as we could.”
Her can-do attitude rubbed off on Rebecca, Pena said, when she was faced with an obstacle, even from an early age, she didn’t say ‘I can’t do that,’ but instead looked for ways to do it.
Even though Rebecca is only four-foot-two-inches tall and in a motorized wheel chair, the other students at school don’t seem to notice. To them, she’s just one of the gang.
Whether it’s in chorus or her favorite class, art, her gregarious personality and quick smile makes her blend right in with her friends, whom she’s gone to school with since kindergarten.
“I have the most awesome friends in the world,” said Rebecca.
Along with her activities at school, she’s also active at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, a member of the Jr. Civitan Club and volunteers at the Shriners Hospital in Lexington, working with children going through some of the same things she has dealt with.
“I know what it was like being in the hospital a long time, so I love to try to help them out as best I can,” Rebecca said. “I tell them my own experiences and give them advice when I can about what they can do and should do if something happens.”
When Rebecca was born, Pena said she knew nothing about OI, but thankfully she was introduced to the Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation.
Through the organization, she was put in touch with other families who had children with OI who helped support her through the early years.
The foundation provides support for families and children with the disease, hosting seminars and conferences, and also provides information to educate people about the disease and the people who have it.
The week of May 9-15 was designated as Osteogenesis Imperfecta Awareness Week in Clark County and across the country in an effort to educate communities about OI.
The organizations slogan reads, “Our bones may be fragile, but we have an unbreakable spirit,” which characterizes Rebecca.
Her broken bones haven’t stopped her in high school and she doesn’t plan on them stopping her afterward Rebecca said. She plans to attend either Eastern Kentucky University or the University of Kentucky to study art and someday become a professor or a high school art teacher.
Pena said she expected nothing less from her daughter.
“There are more to people with OI than the wheelchair and I think with Rebecca that is really true,” said Pena. “She really does have an unbreakable spirit. No matter how many bones she has broken, she won’t let it stop her.”
For more information on Osteogenesis Imperfecta and the OI Foundation, go to www.oif.org.
Contact Bob Flynn at email@example.com