Briana Bliss, age 17, Norman, OK
Briana says, “I believe that I have some important work in this world to accomplish.”
Already, while still a teenager, she has accomplished more than many adults. She serves as a wonderful role model for people with PKU. Named as Oklahoma’s 2006 “Champion Child” for the Children’s Miracle Network (an international non-profit organization with 170 medical groups throughout North America), Briana has served as an outstanding spokesperson for PKU as well as for children with a variety of medical conditions. She was chosen from a large number of applicants from all over the state. Says the director of Children’s Miracle Network, “Briana has been an excellent spokesperson for us and has shown maturity, loyalty, and determination, all with an exuberant attitude about her position and responsibility. She deals with her chronic disease daily with grace, courage, and strength. She is an inspiration to everyone who meets her and she has captured us all with her charm and her perseverance to make her life meaningful.”
Says Briana, “Representing Oklahoma through my position as ‘Champion Child’ has held many amazing opportunities for me to make people more aware of PKU. I have talked to many Representatives and Senators about PKU, as well as meeting President Bush and being included on a national telethon in Orlando, Florida. I have spoken to civic groups, student groups, and businesses, as well as to PKU support groups about what it is like to grow up with PKU.”
Things have not always been easy for Briana. Growing up in a single-parent household with an older sister and no child support, money was always an issue. But no matter what, Briana’s mother always made sure that she had formula and low protein food to eat, even if it meant that she herself would go several days barely eating. Briana says, “My mother is the greatest inspiration in my life. She overcame difficult obstacles so that I could have a better life. She has helped me build a lifelong path to wisdom, courage, and dedication.” When Briana was born, doctors told her mother that because she had PKU, she would not excel in school, especially in math. Her mother “worked with me every day since the day I was born to prove those doctors wrong” and today Briana counts math as her favorite subject!
A top student in her high school who early-on began education in the “gifted and talented” program, she has excelled in Honors and Advanced Placement courses. She also is taking college credits at Oklahoma University as part of an early college entry program.
Because her PKU follow-up sparked her interest in a medically-related profession from a young age, Briana’s goal for the last several years is to become a physical therapist “because my career will be focused on helping others just like I have been helped all my life.”
In the meantime, besides focusing on academics, she works 15-20 hours per week as well as enjoying a wide range of volunteer activities that consume another 30 hours per month. The latter include the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, Teen Volunteers (vice-president), Center for Children & Families, United Way, Special Olympics, Presbyterian Urban Mission, and a church youth group. She also is a member of the National Honor Society and Spanish National Honor Society with 5 years of Spanish in her background.
Briana relates that when she was younger, “I thought PKU was the worst burden anyone could have to deal with.” Then she attended Camp For All, a camp that includes kids with a variety of medical conditions, from PKU to cancer and AIDS. Finally, she realized that everyone is unique in their own special way. She came to cherish who she was no matter what differences she has from others. She says, “I know that life cannot always be fair and everyone has to deal with certain problems of their own. PKU is part of who I am and who I will always be.”