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June 26, 2005

'It was never an issue'

Boy begins his life without full limbs.


Tribune Staff Writer

Barb Eastburn works with her son, Brett, as he tries out a prosthetic arm at a young age.

Photo provided

Vaughn Eastburn holds his son, Brett, who is the one with the big floppy ears.

Other stories in this series:
Making his way: One man's journey to thrive and enlighten

First of seven parts

When Barb Eastburn realized that her son, Brett, had been born with only stubs for arms and legs, she didn't sob. She didn't sulk. She didn't even shudder a little.

She scooped him up and held him close to her heart.

"I already had gone through a miscarriage and a stillbirth," she says. "So I said, 'OK, we have a baby here. Let's go with this.' "

And so she and her husband, Vaughn, did just that.

"I'm not sure Vaughn accepted the situation quite as quickly as I did," Barb says. "I'm still mad at him that he didn't buy me a dozen roses when our son was born."

Later, though, there were stories that the new dad showed off to some of his friends around North Liberty by holding Brett in the palm of his hand and proudly saying, "Look what I made."

Brett was born on Dec. 28, 1971. His little body weighed 2 pounds, 11 ounces.

He had a rare congenital birth defect known as Quadrimembral Amputee Deficiency.

Barb and Vaughn, who later adopted their daughter, Krista, loved their son even if he might always have to be dependent on them.

"I never thought of his situation as a problem," says Barb, a teacher's aide at South Bend's Warren Primary Center. "Maybe I was nuts, but it was never an issue. If it was a problem, it wasn't ours."

They knew some people weren't sure what to say to them after Brett's birth.

"I told them, 'Hey, we got to take a baby home this time,' " says Vaughn, who has his own garage door business.

But, oh, did they hear their share of advice.

"I finally started saying to people who wanted to tell me what to do, 'Go and get your own baby like him,' " Barb says. " 'I'm sure there are other ones like Brett you can adopt. Then you can do whatever you think is right.' "

From an early age, Brett seemed to be able to do what-ever he wanted.

"When he was 5 months old, I remember watching him pick up a ribbon in between his sleeve and his little stub," his mother adds.

She knew the little tyke had tenacity.

Despite having only stubs for appendages, Brett still figured out how to climb up the bars in his baby bed. He tells stories now about his early explorations.

  • "My parents would sit me in a chair and after a while, I learned how to climb down and under it. That's when I discovered dust bunnies. Do you know when dust bunnies are wet, you can mold them into little animals?"

  • "I liked to play around the toilet. But I lost more G.I. Joes that way."

  • "I remember when I discovered I could open the basement door. That was a rough day!"

    His parents say these stories are only slight exaggerations.

    "When he was a little older, I remember looking out the back window and seeing Brett actually running down the side of our 1967 Buick," Barb says. "From front to back as if he had suction cups on. I guess there was just enough of a ridge that he could stay on the car."

    He would climb in his Tonka car and head down the driveway and even had an older buddy pull him on his Hot Wheels behind a minibike.

    It was amazing what he could do without arms or legs.

    "I taught him how to drive a riding mower when he was 6 or 7," Vaughn says. "I wasn't sure if he would be able to use the stick shift or not, but he figured it out.

    "And then one day while we were practicing, I fell down in front of the mower just to make sure he could stop under pressure," Vaughn continues. "He did, but, oh, was he mad when I did that."

    Brett also could be a little headstrong.

    "When he would start venturing out in his electric wheelchair, everybody in town knew who Brett was," Barb says. "He couldn't go anywhere without me knowing where he was.

    "But for his safety purposes, we wanted to put a flashing light on his wheelchair," she says. "He told us he hadn't seen any flashing lights on any of his friends' butts, so why should he have one?"

    And there were times when Brett was a naughty little kid and needed a spanking.

    "But giving him a whack on his butt was a problem," Barb says. "He would be sitting on it and he was so strong that he could swing his body out of the way. So all I could do was give him a little smack on his shoulder."

    Brett learned early to use his sense of humor -- inherited from both his parents -- to put people at ease around him.

    "If somebody was staring at me and not knowing what to say," Brett says, "I might touch them and say, 'You got it, you got it,' as if I were contagious and their legs and arms might fall off."

    And then Brett would dance around and almost fall out of his wheelchair from laughing so hard.

    Next Article: Bouncing up, and then down

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