Brockman Bears, Together Again

Helen Baldwin avatar

by Helen Baldwin |

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What seems a lifetime ago, my husband, Randy, and I decided to return to school for our teacher certifications. After quitting our joint job at a residential facility for at-risk teens, Randy went first.

To pay the bills, I applied to be a substitute teacher. I requested assignments in classrooms for children with special needs (my intended area of certification) and was told that such restrictions wouldn’t keep me very busy. That might have contributed to my first assignment, doled out almost before I completed the interview: a Spanish-speaking kindergarten class. I survived that very long day, and I worked almost daily until it was my turn to return to school.

Just as I wrapped up my certification, a coach Randy had worked with offered him a plum job teaching and coaching football. The catch? It was in Columbia, South Carolina. Barely blinking, we grabbed our Longhorn roots and transplanted them more than 1,000 miles away.

I was hired to teach kindergarten students with orthopedic and multiple handicapping conditions at Brockman School. Then a self-contained setting in a lush, quiet neighborhood, it was love at first sight.

My tiny Brockman Bears (“BOCK-man BAY-uhs,” as my student with echolalia drawled) squealed mostly random thoughts as they rolled into the classroom with pint-sized walkers and wheelchairs, or walked independently with unique gaits. Some spoke coherently, some did not. Some were academically inclined, others not so much. They were all adorable.

Thanks to Brockman’s small size, all students gathered in the cafeteria upon arrival in the mornings and again for lunch. Cafeteria time was when I got to meet and mingle with other students.

One of my favorites was LaMondré Torohn Pough, a middle-schooler.

LaMondré was exceptionally sociable, mature, and intelligent, with a quick, dry wit. When the school performed its Christmas program my first year, I was floored to hear him sing a solo (34 years later, my mother also remembers his exquisite voice). I presumed a form of muscular dystrophy necessitated his wheelchair, but I never gave it more than a fleeting thought.

Randy and I eventually left Columbia. Shortly after landing in the mountains of North Carolina, our baby Jeffrey surprised us in more ways than one. After Jeffrey’s diagnosis with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), I sent a letter to everyone whose address I had in my possession. I explained SMA and asked (OK, begged) for information about SMA, alternative treatments, and prayers. Especially prayers.

It was a no-brainer to include friends and former colleagues from Brockman. Something good surely would come from these connections.

One day I received a phone call from LaMondré. As stunned as I was to hear from him, I was rendered speechless when he said in the soothing voice I remembered, “You know I have SMA.”

Just writing that brings tears and a flood of memories. I’m suddenly back with Jeffrey in our ragged, overstuffed chair, the old phone cord stretched to its max so as not to disrupt the tiny prince perched on a pillow in my lap.

Hearing from someone familiar — or anyone with a glimmer of hope — during our post-diagnosis stupor energized and comforted me. Phone calls and cards came precisely when I needed a boost.

Hearing from LaMondré was the crème de la crème.

He said that one of my former classroom assistants had told him about Jeffrey. When she bemoaned why this had happened to me, he asked, “And who better?” That vote of confidence from someone I knew and who understood this insidious disease provided precious ammo for our next step — whatever it was.

Facebook enables us to remain connected. LaMondré works tirelessly on behalf of those with disabilities in South Carolina and across the country. He continues doing what comes naturally — inspiring and encouraging all.

Thanks to our Jeffrey assignment, random experiences in our life suddenly made sense. When I was sent to Brockman, I wondered why I was being placed where I had the least amount of education, outside my substituting jobs.

As always, God knew what he was doing. In no other school could I have gained experience with suction machines, plugs, tube feedings, respiratory crises, and so much more.

And as a bonus, he placed LaMondré smack dab in my corner, right where and when I needed him.

Brockman Bear? Earth angel.


Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.


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