Brantley Williams in wheelchair on the basketball court

Using a wheelchair makes him different, but he wants to be treated like everyone else

There’s a lot you can learn from a conversation with 7-year-old Brantley Williams.

He can teach you how to catch a moth without hurting its delicate wings, how to defend a basketball opponent who’s bigger than you and how to do a push-up. (He can do 55.)

He’ll also teach you that just because someone might look different doesn’t mean they aren’t just like you.

“Being in a wheelchair makes you a little bit different, but it doesn’t make you different enough to not have friends,” Brantley said.

‘I can do the same things they can’

Olivia Williams’s pregnancy seemed to be going smoothly until something unusual showed up on her 18-week sonogram. At her next appointment, she was given the shocking news that her baby had spina bifida – a birth defect that occurs when the spine and spinal cord don’t form properly.

In that moment, everything changed for Olivia.

“I was 17, and I was actually going to be giving him up for adoption. The day I found out he had spina bifida, I changed my mind. I was like, ‘OK, we’re doing this,’” Olivia said. “From that day, I have never thought twice.”

Since then, Olivia has done everything she could to give Brantley his best chances to live a full life.

At 25 weeks gestation, Brantley had his first surgery, performed in utero. His second surgery came within 24 hours of birth. All told, Brantley has undergone 16 surgeries in his seven-year lifetime, along with countless appointments and drives from their home in Goodfield to OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois in Peoria.

“Stuff comes up and we deal with it. It’s inevitable. The best thing to do is know we are in the best care we could possibly be in,” Olivia said.

[bctt tweet=”Even though I’m in a wheelchair, I can do the same things they can – just differently.” username=”osfhealthcare”]

Despite the complications, Brantley has thrived. He’s active at church and school, plays wheelchair basketball with the Peoria Wildcats and seems to make friends everywhere he goes.

But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had his moments of struggle, especially when people point, stare or make insensitive comments about his disability. When it was time to start school, he worried how the other kids would treat him.

“I didn’t know if I would have that many friends since I couldn’t walk,” he said.

“Now, it’s different. I have friends from church and school. They learn that even though I’m in a wheelchair, I can do the same things they can – just differently.”

Not that different at all

Brantley Williams and mother on the basketball courtSpina bifida has become a big part of Olivia and Brantley’s lives, and it’s shaped both of them in ways they couldn’t have predicted.

“I can’t think of him any other way, and I wouldn’t want him any other way. Brantley being the way God made Brantley has made his personality what it is. He is the most considerate, kind, loving soul that you could ever meet, especially in a young child,” Olivia said.

“He has a way of making people feel good when they’re around him.”

If there’s one thing Olivia and Brantley have learned that they want you to know, it’s that it’s OK to be different. So instead of pointing and staring, or wondering aloud “what’s wrong” with someone, just say hi.

“Outwardly, we might look different, but we’re really not that different at all. We might have several extra appointments and therapies, we might have struggles we go through in life, but we just want to be included,” Olivia said.

Last Updated: January 19, 2022

About Author: Laura Nightengale

Laura Nightengale was a writing coordinator for OSF HealthCare. 

She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and worked as a reporter at a daily newspaper for five years before joining OSF HealthCare. 

When she’s not working, Laura loves to travel, read, and spend time with her family, including her sweet and ornery dog.

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Categories: Kids & Family, Patient Stories