By Gracie Rudolph
Sponsored by the Rockets for Life, H.K. Derryberry and Jim Bradford traveled from Nashville, Tennessee, on Jan. 18 to join the McNicholas student body and faculty/staff and share their story.
Derryberry is blind with Cerebral Palsy and has Hyperthymesia, a rare condition in which an individual possesses a “superior autobiographical memory,” according to peoplewithpotential.com. Bradford became Derryberry’s best friend 1999 when he was 56 and Derryberry was 9.
“I like to soar like an eagle chasing a McNicholas rocket,” Derryberry told McNicholas during his visit, explaining that he is more than the challenges he faces.
Rockets for Life worked to raise funds to bring Derryberry and Bradford to McNicholas because they thought the speakers would be beneficial to the school. Junior Rockets for Life member Vincent Ramundo felt that Derryberry was a necessary speaker after they personally met him in October at the annual Evening for Life event. “[We] knew he had the power to change hearts,” he said.
Rockets for Life held bake sales during lunches, and reached out to multiple parishes, youth ministries, and other pro-life organizations who helped their cause. Ramundo, on behalf of Rockets for Life, thanked the English family for their generous donations because, without their help, the assembly would not have been possible and McNicholas would not have met Derryberry. The English family also sponsored the Rockets for Life’s table at the Evening for Life.
Derryberry’s mother was killed in a car crash while still pregnant with him. His grandmother had the choice to deliver him or allow him to die with his mother because he wasn’t expected to live long. Instead, she chose life, and Derryberry was able to overcome many obstacles. While his father abandoned him, his father’s mother, his grandmother Pearl, raised him. She had no choice but to take him to work with her on the weekends and this is where the relationship between Derryberry and Bradford began one Saturday morning. Bradford decided to stop for a cup of coffee at Derryberry’s grandmother’s place of employment, Mrs. Winners Chicken and Biscuits. Bradford met Derryberry and the relationship grew from there.
Derryberry, who graduated with a high school diploma, told the McNicholas audience that “anything in life is possible.”
“If you see a child with a disability, stop and introduce yourself,” Bradford advised.
Derryberry has been diagnosed with hyperthymesia and is one of two reported cases in the world. During the assembly, Derryberry called individual students up to the stage and asked them their birthdays. From their birthdays, Derryberry could recite exactly what he did on that day. Vanderbilt researchers are optimistic that studies on HK’s brain may one day lead to a breakthrough for people suffering memory loss, according to hkderryberry.com.
Senior Rockets for Life member Janie Ferris was particularly moved by Derryberry and Bradford’s story. “I learned to never give up on somebody, don’t judge a book by its cover, and always find time for important people in your life,” she said.
“No one leaves a conversation with HK without a smile or laugh,” Ramundo said. “His attitude is infectious. They are really down to earth people.”