Lillie was born with EA/TEF in her words living, life with this

Born with EA/TEF with Tracheomalacia at 38 weeks she was repaired at 2 days old she has a heart condition and she had pyloric stenosis

Lillie was born with EA/TEF in her words this is her life with this

Lillie basically wrote, what your about to read for her college paper

Meet Lillie

To the able-bodied, neurotypical person, successful and disabled are far from synonymous.

This point has been attempted to be hammered into my heart and mind multiple times over. It’s as if, according to the “normal” world, the nail in the coffin of failure is our disability and divergency. However, despite the hammer in the hands connected to the wrists I am pushing away with all of my strength, I have refused to be a demonstration of inability.

From a young age, society taught me everything I needed to appear “normal”. Society taught me to conceal.

Don’t laugh too hard. Don’t cough. Don’t get too excited. Don’t breathe too loud. Don’t breathe too hard, either, or they might hear it even louder. You don’t want to scare people, do you? Society taught me to hide. Cover your mouth when you laugh. Pretend that cough wasn’t you. If people know that it’s you coughing, they might be mean to momma, they might kick you out, they will think you’re sick.

Society taught me to run. Calmly walk to the bathroom to a stall in the middle and lock it if coughing is absolutely necessary. If the bathroom is too crowded, lift up your feet so that people can’t tell that horrific, room-clearing noise was just a kid trying to not choke on air, even if lifting your feet made it worse. Do not, under any circumstances, run to the bathroom, especially when you’re choking, you need to try to swallow it as hard as you can first. If you can’t, act as calm as possible and take care of business as quietly as possible. Attention comes to those who are not calm, and attention is the last thing you want. These bullet points of “good behaviour” have been etched and carved into my brain since before I can remember.

I had convinced myself that if I could just “be good” or “behave”, then maybe, by some miracle, I could get better. Like not laughing and not coughing out in public were the pinnacle of positive behaviour rewarded by a lack of disgusted stares aimed right at me like spears laced with the nastiest of venom, targets locked on a seven-year-old kid in a Walmart just trying to look at a pretty shirt. The people at school were just as merciless, if not more.

I learned what cooties and germs were too early because when I did what they did, when I cleared my throat or laughed at a joke, I had them, they heard it. The societal disgust towards my symptoms fuelled my hatred for everyone around me that I could blame. What did my parents do for me to be born so broken? Why did God put me on this earth just to suffer with this condition? Why didn’t my doctors find a way to fix me? After a while, the blame began to shift to myself. I started to hate every piece of me that I considered broken, every fragment of my being that wasn’t perfect, every little bump and bruise, and every part of me that wasn’t normal.

I hated laughing, I hated coughing, I hated sneezing, I hated breathing. I hated everything that exposed me as different. To me, my reflection was broken and repulsively unfixable in a brand new mirror. I tried to fix myself, but I found it much easier to hide that I needed fixing at all. I stopped laughing. I wouldn’t cough until I couldn’t breathe. I wouldn’t eat in front of people, and if I did, I made sure it was soft and I ate slowly.

Getting teased for being a slow eater was much better than being left alone for sounding sick.

I got sick of being accused of being sick.

I decided to remove the weight of other people’s peace off my lungs and throat and finally let myself be free to be truly normal. I let myself laugh, I let myself cough, I let myself eat, and I let myself run if I need to. I stopped focusing on hiding my disabilities and started focusing on my ability to succeed. My drive for success became my distraction from society. With the speed of a deep breath, I decided to change every part of my view of life. I decided to use my knowledge for something good.

I started the health science career path in my classes my sophomore year. I thought, with how much I’ve been in and out of doctors and hospitals, I might as well use what I’ve learned and earn some easy credits. I took the class that no one wanted me to take for years because of societal standards. Because of my disabilities and gender, they “didn’t want to risk it”.

After three attempts, they finally let me into the core construction class my junior year. I took an interest in a specific club because of the advisor. She had been my teacher since middle school, and it just so happened that her class had some of my friends in it. She saw my potential when I didn’t even know what the word was. She brought the reflection of the mirror to me and for once, it didn’t crack. She paid for me to go with her to state competition with the club so that she could have a little extra help that she knew that I could do.

She showed me in those 4 days that my disability does not mean inability.

Now, in my senior year, I have been gratefully gifted the opportunity to demonstrate my abilities. I have finished the health science pathway and along with becoming CPR certified, vision-screening certified, and OSHA certified for the healthcare workplace, I graduate as a CNA and walk across the stage with a red honor cord. I became OSHA certified with construction and finished the “risky” class with an A.

The club I was talking about was TSA, and when officer positions were decided shortly after the state competition, I was made president. I became a member of not only the National Arts Honors Society, but of the CTE Honors Society as well. The only non-honors classes I’ve taken have not had the option of being an honors class. I not only paved my own path to become my own version of normal, I pushed past that and proved that I could be more. I set my own records only to break them time and time again. I did what nobody expected me to do with my disabilities;

I proved that I could thrive and create diamonds out of coal with the pressure pushed on me.

Now that you’ve heard my story, let me introduce myself.

My name is Lillie Ann Bradford, but my friends call me Light, and I was born 1 in 3,000 with a condition called Esophageal Atresia with Tracheoesophageal Fistula, or EA/TEF. I was born without a working esophagus because it was split in half and connected to my trachea. Along with that came some other conditions, such as asthma and Tracheomalacia with stridor, both responsible for my “barky” coughing and laughter. I struggle to eat and drink and mostly rely on gravity to do so. I am also among the only 2% of the population born with bicuspid aortic valve, or BAV, meaning that my heart valves only have two leaflets instead of three.

It is expected for me to require surgery for this in the future. With all of these conditions, there were many things that had discouraging odds. There was a chance I’d never be able to play sports, or eat, or even speak. I was not expected to be normal, and that’s okay. From proving those doctors wrong, I also proved them right in a way.

I will never be normal, because I am extraordinary.

Meet Lillie

Lillie was born with EA/TEF in her words this is her life with this