Newest Central Catholic H.S. graduate is positively inspiring

By: By Tom Dermody

BLOOMINGTON — For Brady Bergschneider, it’s all about moving forward.

So when asked how it felt to finally receive his diploma from Central Catholic High School at the start of this school year, the 19-year-old replied he was glad to be “able to move on.” His sights are already set on college studies, graduate degrees, and a career as a clinical psychologist.

Moving in any direction isn’t easy for Brady, who had both hips replaced before even starting high school.

And then both knees replaced his junior year.

And both ankles his senior year.

Did we mention Brady had eye surgery as an infant, has learned to cope with 50 percent hearing loss, and now can’t raise his arms above his shoulders?

THAT litany of challenges, only partial, is provided solely for reader background. Brady rarely looks in life’s rearview mirror. One can only hope he occasionally uses the one in his Toyota Highlander.

It also explains why the student body at Central Catholic gave him a prolonged standing ovation when principal Joy Allen presented Brady his diploma during an impromptu lunch hour ceremony on Aug. 21.

“I can’t change it,” said Brady of the medical conditions that kept him out of the classroom for so much of his time at Central Catholic. Completing the necessary course work ended up taking him five years and a summer.

“I’ve accepted it for what it is,” he said. “I just try to stay positive and look to the future.”

This summer, that meant taking 12 hours of classes at Heartland Community College even while completing his Central Catholic requirements.

THE SECOND son of Greg and Sherri Bergschneider, members of St. Mary’s Parish, Brady was born with progressive pseudorheumatoid dysplasia, a severe type of rheumatoid arthritis that is both progressive and painful. A limp at age 6, when his family lived in Jacksonville, was its introduction. By the time the Bergschneiders moved to Bloomington three years later, Brady was using a wheelchair.

After attending Pepperidge Elementary, he followed his older brother Brandon into Central Catholic. The newly built school — with its wide hallways, light doors, accessible environment and spiritual foundation — was a perfect fit, both for Brady and those he encountered.

“His positive attitude was, and is, contagious,” said Anne Craig-McEldowney, a counselor at Central Catholic who worked closely with Brady. “Everyone just loved him.”

DESPITE BEING in constant pain — he used his feet to move his wheelchair from class to class because his wrists were too weak to turn the wheels — Brady “never once complained,” Craig-McEldowney told The Catholic Post.

Looking in Brady’s rearview mirror, it’s hard to believe the teenager never changed his worries into whine. In his sophomore year, for example, Brady was finally able to walk into Central Catholic on his own after having both knees replaced. But his weak ankles gave way, Brady fell, and his injuries put him back in the wheelchair.

But spend any time with this happy young man who texts and talks on the phone like any teenager and you’ll believe Craig-McEldowney and the many other witnesses to his positive attitude. Among them is principal Allen, who said in presenting the diploma that Brady would “go from one challenge to the next and he never came to school discouraged.”

And then there’s the person who has witnessed it all — Brady’s mother.

“HE WAS NEVER a ‘Why me?’ child,” said Sherri Bergschneider, a religious education volunteer at St. Mary’s Parish. “He’s always been very positive, and he’s dealt with a lot.”

Some might say Brady was dealt an unfair hand. But you won’t hear that from him.

Instead, he finds positives even in the progressive nature of his disease, which he says has taught him lessons some don’t grasp in a lifetime such as “treasure the time we have” and “spend every day enjoying life and living.”

He signs his e-mails with positive quotes including “In the end it is not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years,” by Abraham Lincoln, or “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile,” by Albert Einstein.

“GOD NEVER gives us more challenges than we can handle,” Brady told The Catholic Post during a Labor Day interview at his parents’ home on Bloomington’s west end.

Facing and meeting those challenges “makes us better in the end,” he said, seated with his mother at a sun room table. The family dog, “Binky,” — a yellow Labrador — was sprawled at his feet.

The Bergschneiders also own two cats, including “Squirt,” given to Brady as a Christmas gift during his junior year by Central Catholic theology classmates who missed their friend.

Brady faces his considerable challenges by praying that God “gives me strength to carry on and keep my spirits up.” But he rarely offers prayers of petition, even when facing yet another surgery.

“I don’t want to always be asking for help,” he says.

“I do enough praying for both of us,” chimed in his mother.

She added, “It’s been a blessing to have Brady. We’ve met a lot of people through him and learned a lot of things.”

In addition to divine help, the Bergschneiders are also grateful to assistance they’ve received from McLean County School District Unit 5 including home instruction; organizations including Easter Seals and the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired; and the financial safety net of Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

“We try to take full advantage of anything that would help Brady physically get around,” he said.

AND BRADY is enjoying quite a year of moving forward. He can stand and walk the best he has in years. He has moved out of his parents’ home and into an apartment he shares with a friend from his childhood in Jacksonville. The 18 credit hours he is taking at Heartland this summer put him in line to get his associate’s degree by next fall, when he hopes to enroll either at Illinois State University or the University of Illinois.

There are more obstacles ahead. Another ankle surgery “revision” looms, and the disease is now targeting his shoulder joints, which are wearing down and will eventually deteriorate.

Count on Brady taking it one blessed day at a time. He wants to become a clinical psychologist in order to “help people similar to me; those suffering in general, and help them get through it.”

“He’s researched how to get his master’s and Ph.D.,” said his mother. “He’s got all his ducks in a row.”

They’re all facing forward, we’re sure.

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