One cold October morning, a senior business executive entered a drafty fast-food restaurant in search of hot coffee. He certainly wasn’t seeking a son, but a small nine-year old boy sporting an overgrown buzz haircut and missing baby teeth desperately needed a Dad.
Little did Jim know that HK had come into this world with the odds stacked heavily against him or that on most weekends HK spent almost eighteen solitary hours in that restaurant while his grandmother worked the cash register. Jim never could have fathomed how much their chance encounter that Saturday morning would transform their lives as he became HK’s best friend for life.
The Awakening of HK Derryberry is the inspiring story of how Jim Bradford willingly stepped out of his comfortable world and into the life of HK Derryberry, a young boy with multiple disabilities and a bleak future. This book chronicles their enduring seventeen-year friendship and the discovery of HK’s remarkable gift of memory.
Because of their friendship, HK has met professional sports figures and music legends, piloted an airplane, and can navigate a pontoon boat. Among other things, he was also named best blind skier while schussing downhill on Colorado’s slopes. But buried beneath HK’s severe disabilities is one spectacular ability. Diagnosed with Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM), HK has an extremely rare gift of memory that allows him to recall details of every day of his life since the age of three.
“A day never passes,” says Jim, “that I don’t think about him or mention him in conversation. He will always affirm my belief that God is still in the miracle business.
Destined not just to steal but also to warm your heart, Jim and HK’s story reminds us that every life has a sacred purpose, and beauty and joy are found when we invest in the lives of others.
HK Derryberry is a miracle. Born July 8, 1990 HK arrived three months premature due to an automobile accident that took his mother’s life. He spent 96 days fighting for survival in neonatal intensive care. He was born blind, with cerebral palsy and countless other health problems. When HK turned five years old, his father left him with his mother and disappeared. Since age ten, HK had displayed signs of a remarkable ability to recall dates and other facts surrounding events in his life. In 2012, the mystery of his memory was unlocked by medical researchers at Vanderbilt Memory Clinic. HK is one of the few people in the world with a medical diagnosis of hyperthymesia.
Questions for Jim Bradford (Caretaker/author)
- Tell us why you felt the urge to go speak to HK in Mrs. Winners and how that was the day that changed your life? After purchasing my cup of coffee and preparing to depart the restaurant, I spotted a little boy sitting alone at a small table listening to a radio. My first thought was what a cute little kid. However, the braces on his legs let me know he had some physical issues. When one of the workers at the restaurant informed me the little boy was blind I was compelled to introduce myself and learn more. Seventeen years later I’ve certainly learned a lot more, which is chronicled in our book The Awakening of HK Today, HK is like a son that my wife and I never had.
- Tell us what you hope other boomers will think about as it relates to leaving a legacy through sharing your life? I believe everyone has sufficient time in their lives for developing at least one additional friendship. That’s what I came to realize as my friendship with HK blossomed. For me and my wife Brenda, our mentoring and friendship with HK has significantly changed his life for the better as well as ours.
- What do you hope HK remembers about you and your family most? Brenda and I hope he’ll remember us foremost for our loving him like a son and instilling in him Christian values. Additionally, we hope he’ll remember us for providing him an opportunity to live life as normal as I personally, hope he’ll always cherish memories of all the fun things he and I got to do together.
- What’s your favorite HK memory? There are so many wonderful memories that make it extremely difficult to choose a favorite. However, a very special memory is the day he accepted Christ as his savior and was baptized. Our church’s sanctuary was totally filled with a hundred or more people standing. His grandmother was present along with many of HK’s friends that attend other churches including a member of the Tennessee Titans football team.
- What do you dream for HK to be able to accomplish in the future? I believe HK will continue to accomplish feats once thought to be unattainable by people with the severity of his disabilities. Including his becoming a nationally recognized inspirational/motivational speaker providing him with earnings sufficient to allow him to live comfortably for the remainder of his life. When I’m no longer available I hope HK will meet another special friend who will devote seventeen more years of mentoring and befriending this remarkable young man.
- Tell us how you realized HK’s memory needed to be investigated? As our friendship developed, I began to realize HK’s memory was extraordinary based on factual information he shared with me including dates, times and places. After viewing and listening one Sunday evening to a program on 60 Minutes about six individuals who were diagnosed with hyperthymesia or highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM) I realized HK possessed some of those same HK’s longtime pediatric neurologist at Vanderbilt, Dr. Tom Davis, had also realized his remarkable memory since he was just a young child. Dr. Davis eventually shared the information about HK’s memory with Dr. Brandon Ally with the Vanderbilt Memo;y Clinic. Although, skeptical at first, after interviews with HK, Dr. Ally realized HK’s memory was unique. Subsequent testing using the latest structural MRI technology Dr. Ally confirmed HK’s HSAM. Dr. Ally’s research was published in the journal Neurocose in April 2012. HK is only the second case in the world to be presented in scientific literature and the first to include structural imaging data from brain examinations.
- Why should people read the Awakening of HK Derryberry? Most everyone, at some point in life, benefits from a little inspiration and motivation. And that’s what The Awakening of HK Derryberry provides it readers. It’s a story that miracles are made of. A boy, who from birth faces life threatening issues most people will never experience nor can fully Yet, the boy’s blindness, cerebral palsy and a lengthy list of other medical issues never waivers his always positive attitude nor his will to successfully overcome every adversity he encounters…providing hope and encouragement for every reader…especially for families with children with disabilities HK frequently shares a quote from his good friend and Gold Medal Olympics Champion Scott Hamilton…”The only disability any of us have in life is a negative attitude.”
Questions for HK
- HK, What’s the best thing/ advice that Mr. Bradford has taught you? That he loves me, is proud of me and is proud to introduce me to his friends. He’s helped me understand that “anything in life within your capabilites is possible” if you work hard, never give up and always maintain a positive attitude.
- What’s the best day that you’ve ever had? Oh, I’ve been blessed with so many “best” days in my life that it’s difficult to choose one. However, the one that I worked the hardest to achieve is graduating from high school on June 1, 2012 with a regular academic diploma.
- What do you remember about the day you met Mr. Bradford? It was Saturday, October 16, 1999, it was 55 degrees outside, my Grammy and I arrived at the fast food restaurant at nine in the morning and Mr. Bradford came in at ten-thirty to purchase a cup of coffee. As he was leaving the restaurant he stopped at my table and introduced himself. After he left I knew he’d come back again to talk to me and become a good friend.
- What makes you so unique? Oh, I’m not much different than most folks I meet. However, my memory is better than most everyone I’ve ever met so that probably makes people consider me unique.
- During the holidays season, do you have any advice for people that may be feeling down or lonely? I’ve been lonely a lot during my life so I know that can be very sad and depressing especially during the holidays. So I’d like to remind everyone of what my good friend Scott Hamilton once told me. He said, “the only disability any of us have in life is a negative attitude.” Just tell them if they are ever down or depressed just pick up the phone and call old HK in Nashville and I’ll give them a “no-charge” holiday pep talk!
- What do you want to be able to pass along to others as they read your story? I hope the readers will be inspired and motivated by my will to overcome adversity and to accomplish and do things many young people without disabilities never have the chance to do. I also hope they’ll become more conscious of children and adults with disabilities or for some reason just need a valued friend in their life who they can communicate with. My friendship with Mr. Bradford is like that and it has forever changed my life and his.
For more information on HK Derryberry and Jim Bradford’s inspiring new book, “The Awakening of HK Derryberry”, click here.
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