When I was in Cincinnati last week, I was fortunate to be able to attend Cincinnati Right to Life’s “Evening for Life” Dinner, which featured H.K. Derryberry as keynote speaker. H.K.’s life story is really incredible, and he and Jim Bradford, his friend/mentor, were inspirational in their witness for living the sort of life that recognizes suffering neighbors around you in your daily life. That’s how their friendship was built.
HK Derryberry’s life is truly a miracle. Born July 8, 1990, in Nashville, Tennessee, HK arrived three months premature due to an automobile accident that took his mother’s life. The tiny two-pound baby boy would spend the next 96 days fighting for survival in Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s neonatal intensive care unit.
Although doctors offered little hope for survival, this miracle baby proved them all wrong. Because of the accident and his premature birth, he was born blind, with cerebral palsy and countless other medical problems. Eventually this proved too much for his father, who survived the automobile crash but was unable to cope with life. When HK turned five years old, he left his disabled son in the care of his mother and disappeared for over ten years. Raised by his grandmother, some people might say HK faced too many mountains to climb.
Quite the contrary! At an early age, HK displayed an extraordinary will to overcome his disabilities and at age three enrolled at the Tennessee School for the Blind, becoming one of the youngest students in the school’s history. His right arm, paralyzed from a stroke suffered soon after birth, did not stop him from learning to read and write Braille with just one hand, another first for the 150-year old school!
HK’s life was changed forever in 1999 when he unexpectedly met Jim Bradford, a local businessman in Brentwood, Tennessee, who was married with two adult daughters. HK and Jim soon became inseparable and eventually Jim’s family welcomed HK into their lives like an adopted son. His personal mentoring and constant involvement quickly exposed HK to a world he had never experienced.
Since age ten, HK had displayed signs of a remarkable ability to recall dates and other facts surrounding events in his life. In 2012, the mystery of his memory was unlocked by medical researchers at Vanderbilt Medical Center’s Memory Clinic. They discovered that HK is one of only five or six people in the world with a medical diagnosis of hyperthymesia, otherwise known as Superior Autobiographical Memory. He has the ability to remember every event including time and place that’s occurred to him since he was 3½ years old. Vanderbilt researchers are optimistic that studies on HK’s brain may one day lead to a breakthrough for people suffering memory loss.