By Tammie Allegro
When you meet a 17-year-old who says he was raised in captivity, it gives you pause. You might even wonder what on earth the kid is talking about. However, when you learn that this particular young man has been sheltered and home-schooled since kindergarten due to his autoimmune disease, you begin to look at things differently.
Tyler Brolliar has primary immunodeficiency disease (PIDD) and eosinophilic esophagitis (EE). Currently, he can’t eat any foods. He depends on elemental amino acid-based formula, which he administers to himself through his feeding tube. He does have one luxury: Dum Dum suckers! (Apparently, they have no natural ingredients like fruit juice or extracts.) When I met Tyler, he was able to eat beef and pears, but he can no longer eat those because his body rejected them; his esophagus was beginning to close up. The process of clearing out his system takes a couple of months. But, that doesn’t stop Tyler from sitting with his family for dinner or going to friends’ houses to hang out and play video games.
Tyler came into our lives as a friend of my oldest daughter. I first met him after a Halloween dance where he was dressed as Sweeney Todd. His remarks and his tone of voice were all in tribute to the movie. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the reference since I hadn’t seen the movie. That being said, there was something about this young man; I was captivated instantly. It wasn’t until the end of the night when we gave him a ride home that I learned how ill he is. He mentioned his “infusion” scheduled for the next day and I asked, “What kind of infusion?” He was surprised that I knew what intravenous immune globulin (IVIG) is and that I genuinely wanted to know more about him. That’s when I knew I wanted our IG Living readers to get to know him as well.
Mature beyond his years, Tyler is bright, charming, funny, quick-witted and sweet. Most teens would run for the closest computer at the sight of their mother’s friends coming to visit. Not Tyler; he is right in there making the group laugh. His grace in front of us “older folks” is impressive. His conversations are not the typical self-centered commentary of a teen, but rather the wise words of a well-versed young man.
Home life for Tyler is pretty amazing. He comes from a very loving and supportive family. His mother and two sisters are there for him every step of the way. The lengths his mother has gone to for his treatment and care speaks volumes about the power of a mother’s love.
Having a chronic illness can be overwhelming for anyone. The challenges are multiplied when they coincide with things like hormones, peer pressure and figuring out how you fit in socially. Tyler copes by setting goals for himself: He wants to be an artist and a writer.
“I don’t relate to regular teenagers; they confuse me,” he says. “I have never been taught how to draw, but I just do things over and over until I get them perfect. Then, I go back later and change them again.”
Eventually, Tyler would like to serve a mission for his church. “I would love to go somewhere international and exotic, but I will probably end up in Utah or Idaho,” he says. Knowing the risks, it is his hope that he will be able to manage his health by the time this milestone rolls around. For now, he focuses on his art, writing and getting healthy enough to attend a charter high school in the fall. Wouldn’t it be great if we all handled life’s challenges with such optimism and grace?
How about you? Does Tyler’s story inspire you to pursue a more positive outlook? Do you know any teens with chronic illnesses who are “everyday heroes?”