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Pacifica's Burns overcomes fall to graduate with classmates
GARDEN GROVE - A small school bus rolled onto the dirt track before Pacifica’s graduation ceremony Wednesday afternoon carrying a senior ready to defy obstacles on one of his brightest days.
Swimmer Ben Burns sat in his wheelchair in the back of the vehicle dressed in a vibrant blue graduation gown, his gold-trimmed Junior ROTC vestment around his neck and his legs extended in white casts.
Just a day earlier, Burns was released from Children's Hospital of Orange County in Orange after breaking one of his femur bones and fracturing the other during a fall at a friend’s house. Any fall or stumble is dangerous for Burns because of a rare genetic bone disorder, osteogenesis imperfecta, which causes his bones to break easily.
The condition, commonly referred to as brittle bones, didn’t stop him from earning his first varsity letter in swimming in the spring. And it had no chance of stopping him from joining his fellow classmates for the graduation ceremony on the football field at Bolsa Grande High.
“I told my dad (Jerry), no matter how much pain I’m going to be in, I have to be here,” Burns said on the bus. “I’ve worked so hard to get here, I need to be here.”
Burns injured both legs when he fell June 14 on a short step at a friend’s house.
He often uses a wheelchair for safety reasons. He has titanium rods for his fibulas and has broken many bones, starting when he was an infant.
“I’ve broken almost every bone in my body,” he said after breaking one of his legs as a junior.
In his typical upbeat fashion Wednesday, Burns joked about how he also broke a toe during his fall.
“That’s a new one,” he said.
After he visited with a few of his fellow ROTC members, a mechanical lift lowered Burns from the bus onto the track. Wearing black sunglasses, his graduation cap and tassel, he flashed a wide smile as he was wheeled to the field by his father.
“Even if they told him no,” classmate Hannah Shim said, “he’d find a way.”
Shim echoed the feelings of Burns’ mother, Ellen.
“He was in the hospital yesterday at this time,” she said. “Try to stop him.”
With his family members seated on the track, Burns sang “Go the distance” with the school choir before receiving his diploma.
“He’s an inspiration,” said choir director David Joseph, who greeted Burns on the grass field. “Even when challenges come up, he perseveres.”
Burns said his leg injuries will delay the start of his Mormon mission, but he plans to enroll at Golden West College and pursue a degree in film. His physical rehabilitation will include his favorite sport, swimming, which he can do at home courtesy of a pool the family received during its participation in the show “Extreme Makeover” in 2004.
“I’m going to be doing a lot of swimming,” he said.