Breanna Sprenger

"Don't ever underestimate a person that has a disability," - Breanna Sprenger

Every year on July 6, Breanna Sprenger celebrates her birthday the same way: She asks her parents to take her to Cleveland Clinic to visit certified nurse practitioner Lucy Andrews-Mann.

The outgoing fifth-grader had 16 surgeries at Cleveland Clinic, and Ms. Andrews-Mann was there for most of them.
Between the surgeries and her doctor’s appointments, 10-year-old Breanna has spent a good portion of her life at Cleveland Clinic, zipping around in her wheelchair, enjoying the company of specialists from Child Life Services and searching for therapy dogs to pet. “It’s her second home,” says her mom, Carrie Sprenger.

Breanna is equally at home in a swimming pool. In February, Breanna won two gold medals, a silver and a bronze in backstroke and freestyle swimming at the Jimi Flowers Classic Disability Swim Meet, held at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

The competition, sponsored by the U.S. Paralympics, was Breanna’s first. Her performance qualified her for the Paralympic trials this summer in Bismarck, N.D.

Breanna was born without legs and with just one arm. She swims by moving her entire torso, dolphinlike. “People should know, don’t ever underestimate a person that has a disability,” she says. “Because they will prove you wrong.”

Poised and precocious, Breanna says her goals in life are “to be an Olympic swimmer, to be a Child Life specialist for Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital, to find a cure for cancer.”

Her determination has been evident since the very beginning: Breanna wasn’t expected to survive. Prenatal tests showed that she had numerous life-threatening problems that included a hole in her heart and another in her brain, and she appeared to be missing a stomach as well, though that later proved incorrect. A spontaneous vascular interruption at five or six weeks of pregnancy had interfered with Breanna’s development.

Breanna’s mirthful laugh bubbles up from deep within her. She enjoys her life and “all the great people that are in it,” she says. Among those great people are her mother; her father, John Sprenger; and, even though she rolls her eyes in typical big-sister fashion, her siblings, Paighten, 7, and Chase, 5.

Forever the entertainer — she loves cheerleading and playing in the school band — Breanna was in her element when she appeared onstage with Delos M. Cosgrove, MD, CEO and President of Cleveland Clinic during part of his recent State of the Clinic address.

The physicians and other caregivers in the audience gave her a standing ovation, which, says Breanna, made her happy.

It made her mom cry. “It was very emotional for me as a mother,” says Carrie. “I could see out in the auditorium her doctors … her surgeons … Lucy. I was bawling.”

So what advice does Breanna have for other children? “Be brave.”

Ms. Andrews-Mann remembers Breanna at a mere 4 years old, “negotiating with me about doing something,” the nurse practitioner says. “She is becoming a lovely young woman with all the traits you hope for: strength, determination and a love for living. She is a force to be reckoned with!”