Jan Bryant

1955 – 2003

I-CAN lost a great mentor and friend

I was born Janice Kay Smothers. I am the second of five children born to J. L. & Robbie Smothers. I have a sister, Faye who is eleven years older and three younger brothers, Jim, John, and Bill. We were a fairly “normal” family, only I was born without arms and hands. My mom saw this when they did a sonogram, so she was ready for me in her head but her heart surprised her. She told me she never knew how deeply a human being could love another. My mom told me that I was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen when they put me in her arms.

When I was born, I only weighed five pounds and lost down to three. Due to complications at birth, my throat was closed and later on I developed scoliosis. The doctors sent me home and told my parents to bring me back if I lived. If I Lived! Did I ever! My mom fed me with a medicine dropper for hours on end. In one week, I gained a pound and a half! Doctors were amazed. I was on the medicine dropper for several weeks before my throat finally opened up. Mom saved my life.

When I was three months old, Mom was doing dishes while I lay on the floor on a quilt (my favorite place) when she heard our kitten howl. Mom came running to see what was going on and saw that I had that kitten by the tail between my toes and was not about to let it go! She laughed and cried at the same time. A few days later, I was on my quilt again and Mom was in the same room with me this time. I picked a hair up and held it up between my toes with both feet and pulled it apart. That was when she knew I was going to be OK.

At the age of one year the doctor referred me to the Crippled Children’s Clinic because my back was beginning to curve significantly. The doctors there watched until I was five years old. During that time, they tried artificial arms with me and I wore those things off and on until I started to school. One day I had Mom put them on me. When we looked in the mirror, Mom said “See you look so much better.” That is when I broke down and screamed at the top of my lungs “NO I DON’T!!!” I sobbed! My mom took the arms off, grabbed me up and held me and exclaimed “You are right, my angel, you are beautiful just the way you are and you don’t EVER have to wear those things again!”

That’s the day those heavy, hot prostheses went in the garbage. Well, the doctors wanted to know how I was doing. They even brought in a “specialist” from Michigan who saw me and told them I could do more with my feet than I would ever do with prostheses. I had surgery on my spine at age five. They took bone marrow from a goat and place it over my spine. This kept it from getting any worse. I know I find it hard to believe the goat story too. At fourteen, I had two metal pins put in my left knee to stop the leg from outgrowing the right.

I was not allowed to go to the city school because they “could not provide for a child like me”, so I went to a little country school until they closed it down after third grade. Our mail carrier, who was also on the school board, intervened. The rest is history. I graduated high school, went on to college, worked, married, have two great kids, and truly enjoy my life. This would not be possible without my parents who believed in me, encouraged me, supported me, but most of all, they loved me. They are the ones who had the greatest influence on me and made this little “Steel Magnolia” a success!

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