Dark Past, Bright Future: Brandi's Riley Story
Brandi crosses the room to shake the hand of Roberta Hibbard, M.D. At the last second she opts for a hug instead. “So nice to meet you, sweetheart,” Dr. Hibbard tells the striking college student with dark brown eyes.
The last time Dr. Hibbard looked into those eyes they were framed by a much smaller face. Brandi was brought to Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health in 1995 when she was two-and-a-half years old. She weighed about 14 pounds – the normal weight of a five-month-old baby. Court documents show Brandi’s birth parents had locked her in a closet on a dirty mattress covered by garbage bags for much of her life. After a concerned neighbor made a phone call, child protective services workers removed Brandi from the home and police arrested her parents for neglect.
“I really want to find out everything I can,” Brandi explains to Dr. Hibbard. She has heard only bits and pieces of information over the years. Today she is ready to put the puzzle pieces together. “I want to know exactly what happened to me so I can use it to help…because I know I owe my life to so many other people,” she says.
Dr. Hibbard shows Brandi her medical records, explaining how the Riley’s Child Protection Program and other pediatric services helped her gain weight and learn to walk and talk. Then she asks Brandi if she is ready to see the photos. A slide projector turns on. Huge, sad eyes appear on the screen. The girl in the picture is tiny, with ribs visible and bony knees protruding. “Wow…” Brandi says. “I can’t believe that was me. Looking at how small I was…” But the dark eyes are unmistakably hers - eyes that to this day are severely impaired because of the extreme malnutrition. “Saying thank you doesn’t even cover it,” Brandi tells Dr. Hibbard. “I may not have been here without you. I may not have been here without Riley.”
Dr. Hibbard says the key to Brandi’s survival was simple – someone was brave enough to speak up and save her. “We have to get the word out,” Dr. Hibbard says. “We have to make people understand that all of us have to watch out for our children. If you see something that doesn’t look right, pick up the phone and make that call.”
Today, Brandi is studying psychology, and has begun sharing her story at Riley Dance Marathons. “I want to be able to help other children,” she tells Dr. Hibbard. “There were people who saved me. People like you and the neighbor. I could save one child’s life and the whole thing is worth it.”
Dr. Hibbard smiles with admiration at the driven young woman before her who has come a long, long way since her first visit to Riley.
“Good things come in small packages,” she says.