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December 29, 2017

“Just a normal girl,” Anna overcomes great challenges

Contributed Photo
“It says a lot about Anna’s intelligence that she is in fifth grade this year,” says Jerry Hull, her teacher at Brumfield.
What I’ve always seen is her perseverance through everything she’s had to encounter in her short life already . . . . We should all strive to be more like Anna.
— Brumfield Elementary School Principal Julie Gagnon
Anna Franklin
• Age: 10

• Home: Warrenton

• Family: Parents, Ashley and Darrin; sister, Reese, 13.

• Education: James G. Brumfield Elementary School, kindergarten to fifth grade; C. Hunter Ritchie Elementary, preschool.

• Hobbies: Crocheting, dancing (tap and ballet), riding horses, reading, bike riding, roller-skating, playing with friends, swimming and performing in school plays.
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Staff Journalist
The Brumfield Elementary fifth-grader stays positive and perseveres in the face of physical challenges.

Even though Anna Franklin has undergone 15 surgeries, she remains a happy, outgoing, typical 10-year-old who loves to crochet, dance, ride her bike and perform in school plays.

“I’m just a normal girl,” Anna says.

Born with a rare genetic condition called Nager Syndrome, Anna has underdeveloped cheekbones, eight fingers, a cleft palate and small jaw.

She has undergone three surgeries on her jaw and other medical procedures to correct sleep apnea, eating difficulties, hearing, speech and hand functions, according to her mom, Ashley.

“About the first seven years of her life she was literally fighting the entire time,” Anna’s dad, Darrin Franklin says. “Not just surgeries, but getting through daily things without nearly the sleep children should get because of those issues.”

Mrs. Franklin explains: “With her syndrome, her jaw doesn’t grow, but the rest of her body does. About every three years she has to have a jaw distraction where they lengthen her jaw to expand her airway.”

But, those challenges haven’t stopped Anna from living a normal life and learning to adapt.

She missed half of second grade and had homebound instruction because of several surgeries, including the installation of a BAHA (bone anchored hearing aide).

But, she caught up academically and entered third grade on time.

“It says a lot about Anna’s intelligence that she is in fifth grade this year,” says Jerry Hull, her teacher at Brumfield. “She is a more than capable student, and she does extremely well academically.”

Anna has faced challenges similar to those featured in the New York Times bestselling young adult book, Wonder by R.J. Palacio.

The story focuses on the fictional character August Pullman, a 10-year-old born with facial differences that result from Treacher Collins Syndrome — similar to Nager Syndrome.

“Auggie” gets bullied for his differences at school, but shows courage and kindness that help him make real friends.

The book raises awareness about the challenges people with craniofacial syndromes encounter and teaches peers how to be kind to others.

This fall, Anna’s fifth-grade language arts class read Wonder, the basis of a new movie.

The same age as Auggie and coping with a similar syndrome, Anna relates intimately to the story.

“It really made me feel good,” she says. “It’s great for people to know about it, so they are aware there are people like that, and they shouldn’t be mean.”

“The way kids are taking to that story and loving it, I couldn’t ask for anything more. It was a real blessing,” Mrs. Franklin says.

Although never bullied at school, Anna said younger children sometimes ask hurtful questions or give her strange looks.

“Everybody’s been nice to me,” she says.

“She’s more nervous around the younger kids, because it’s just a curiosity,” Mrs. Franklin says. “They know something’s different, but they are not trying to be mean.

“We were out in a store (getting crochet materials) one day, and a little boy said something like, ‘Oh, she’s weird.’ It hurt Anna’s feelings, but she stopped and said, ‘I’m just going to focus on my crocheting.’ That’s just her personality — I’m just going to let it slide off.

“Whenever she does get her feelings hurt by someone, we say think of all the people who love you and hug you,” her mother adds.

“This family has surrounded Anna with love, support and high expectations,” Mr. Hull says. “I’ve never heard any of them complain about ‘poor us.’ They want everything for Anna that any other child would get.”

Support groups such as the Nager & Miller Syndrome Foundation and Children’s Craniofacial Association have helped link Anna and her family to other children with the rare condition.

“We don’t want anyone to lower expectations for her and they haven’t,” Mrs. Franklin says. “Brumfield and the teachers here have been such a good support system for her.”

“We encourage her in everything she does and try to never limit her experiences due to them possibly being too difficult or a fear of failure. She has a desire to live a full life and that is our wish for her,” Mrs. Franklin says. “It is Anna's faith in God, her strong spirit and big heart that helps her sail through so many challenges and amaze us on a daily basis.”

A team of teachers also has helped Anna overcome many challenges. They describe her as courageous, determined, smart and friendly.

This year, Anna has learned to type on a keyboard, to maneuver around the playground’s “monkey bars” and to ride a bike — with her sister Reese’s help.

“Her upper extremities are not fully developed; her arms don’t extend the same and she is missing some muscle on her left shoulder,” Mrs. Franklin says. “Those types of things make her nervous and extra cautious.”

“A lot of it is her figuring out how she can adapt or compensate to be able to participate in PE class,” school physical therapist Karen Millerson explains.

As a 2-year-old, Anna started communicating with American Sign Language. She quickly learned more than 200 signs.

Beth Conolly, a speech pathologist at Brumfield, has helped Anna work on her speech since preschool. Recently, they worked on pronouncing difficult words and how Anna can be an advocate for herself if someone doesn’t understand what she tries to say.

“Initially we worked a lot on sounds,” Ms. Conolly says. “At this point, we know which sounds we can do and those we can’t do physically. She compensates for those.

“One of the things I admire about Anna is her sense of humor,” the therapist adds. “When we were learning to count, she said, ‘I can only count to eight because I only have four fingers on each hand.’

“I don’t think Anna sees herself as different. She can do anything that anybody else her age can do and more.”

In the future, “I’d like to be a child psychologist,” Anna says.

But, in the short term, she hopes to earn all A’s again next semester. Anna will enter Taylor Middle School next fall.

“What I’ve always seen is her perseverance through everything she’s had to encounter in her short life already,” Brumfield Principal Julie Gagnon says. “People like Anna are very few and far between . . . .

“They’ve had to overcome all these obstacles, yet are still so positive, kind, friendly and outgoing. She’s been in almost every musical and performance we’ve had at Brumfield.”

“We should all strive to be more like Anna,” Ms. Gagnon says.
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Stacie Griffin · December 29, 2017 at 10:37 am
You go girl! You are beautiful just the way you are!
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