Student survives 64 surgeries to graduate this year

Clovis High School senior Sean Broome, 19, seen here with his 2-year-old poodle, Cozmo, was 13 months old when diagnosed with Williams Syndrome. He will graduate Saturday from Clovis High School. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

Hundreds of 2005 Clovis High School graduates will line up Saturday at Rock Staubus Gym to receive diplomas. Among those hundreds, Sean Broome stands out.

“There is nobody in the school like me,” 19-year-old Broome said, sitting Indian style on his living room carpet, gently patting his mother’s knee.

His affectionate and unique nature experts say can be traced to chromosome 7 — the genetic coding on the long arm of Broome’s chromosome is missing.

The birth defect, too tiny for a microscope alone to detect, robs Broome and approximately 25,000 other people in the United States of the elastin gene, impeding the development of blood vessels and muscles. But Broome, who will graduate from the special education level 4 class, and his mother, Pamela Conditt, a single parent who works two jobs to support her son, try hard not to be limited by much else.

“He was 13 months (old) when a heart doctor diagnosed him with Williams Syndrome,” said Conditt, fighting back tears. “It’s hard because when you have kids you expect to teach them how to live in your world. I figured out with Sean it was different. I had to go to his world to teach him.”

Broome’s special education teacher Patricia Madrid works with 30 children, all have varying disabilities. Broome’s warm personality, Madrid said, separates him from other students.

“He’s got such an easy-go-lucky personality,” Madrid said, adding that unlike some of her students, Broome gets along with peers inside and outside her program.

For Conditt, Broome’s education has always been a priority. To ensure he received pre-schooling, Conditt would carry her son, his muscles too weak to support his weight, to the bus and hand him to the bus driver, who would shuttle him to Marshall Junior High’s program for the disabled. Broome still appears fragile, his weight fluctuates, rarely reaching above 100 pounds, his limbs are long, but thin like toothpicks.

Broome has had 64 surgeries — among them two open heart procedures, a lung biopsy, and more than 50 surgeries to rebuild and repair his esophagus, enabling him to safely swallow food. But like everything in life, Broome approaches his surgeries with a light spirit, smile, and refreshing simplicity.

“I was sick for a whole lot of years,” said Broome in his raspy voice, one hand resting lightly on his poodle, Cozmo.

“The nurses spoiled me bad. I got Skittles. I took all the purple ones and threw them in the trash,” Broome said, focusing not on the pain of being in a hospital for months on end, but on the small human kindness that existed even in the sterile environment.

Like most people with Williams Syndrome, Broome is a bundle of contradictions.

Family and friends say he can determine the source of car troubles in an instant. But he does not know his multiplication tables. His vocabulary is extensive. But he reads at a fourth grade level. He is gregarious and quick to smile. But kids have always teased him.

He is hard-working, looking forward to stacking shelves at Albertson’s after graduation. But his body betrays him.

His mother said as an infant he would startle at the noise of a trash truck blocks away; later in life, a dose of antibiotics destroyed his hearing.

While experts scramble to explain Williams Syndrome, how it upsets modern definitions of intelligence, those closest to the soon-to-be graduate say Broome has taught them a lot.

He taught his special education teacher, Madrid, patience.

He taught Darnella Williams, an ENMRSH employee, the meaning of empathy.

He taught his mother what is important in life.

He taught his grandfather to believe in miracles.

“All people,” said Broome, when asked what others have taught him, “make me proud. I get so happy everyday.”