Graduation triumph for girl with rare genetic disorder

WALLA WALLA — On the day before her graduation from Walla Walla High School, 18-year-old Brittney Woodland spent the afternoon at home. She watched from her front porch as a couple of movers brought a new couch into the living room.

“That looks like fun. Can I help?” she said soft enough so they didn’t hear. Woodland unleashed a mischievous smile, partly hidden behind a strand of blonde hair resting against her face.

Ask Woodland why she’s in a wheelchair, and she’ll infuse her answer with that same playful humor, yet be totally frank.

“I tell them I have osteogenesis imperfecta,” she said, explaining her stock answer to inquirers. “And they look at me like, ‘What?’ “

She’ll then offer the simpler explanation: She has brittle bones because of a genetic disorder that makes her skeleton as delicate as chalk and prone to breaks and fractures.

There have been countless such injuries since Brittney was born, brought on in part by her disease, and in part by her adventurous nature.

There was young Brittney deciding to climb on her own out of the family van, or hoist herself onto the family couch. She was often told not to do things that could hurt her.

“I still did it, most of the time,” she admitted.

“She’s very determined,” agreed her mother, Carol Woodland.

The Walla Walla teen and her family made headlines when she was an infant, with an article written about her life when she was 5 months old.

Back then, the family could only wonder how Brittney would develop. Today, Brittney has reached the milestone of graduating from high school, becoming part of the class of 2009.

She said Garrison Middle School was the best because she got to be part of the regular student body.

The sheer size of Wa-Hi, with nearly 2,000 students and a sprawling campus, had Brittney segregated in special-education courses, mainly for her safety, her mother said.

She’s considering college, but right now wants to enjoy the summer break. She has an interest in video games and is thinking about getting a job, she said.

“I think I want to be a game designer,” she said.

That sly sense of humor surfaces again as she talks about one fun game, called “Bully,” where oppressed students get a chance at revenge against their tormentors.

“It’s kind of funny,” she said. “You can dunk their heads in toilets, or give them wedgies.”

Of course, in real life such shenanigans are inappropriate, she stressed.

Her life has been like that of a typical teen, with a few limitations.

There are eight distinct types of osteogenesis imperfecta. Brittney was born with Type III, which is considered progressive and deforming.

Even with that realization, Brittney is carrying on and enjoying the ride.

“Gotta get through it somehow,” she shrugged.

And to those who may be tempted to stare in wonder, or want to know more about her life, she offers a simple answer.

“People have to just come up and ask me,” she said.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company