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Wednesday, July 11, 2007


While writing a paper for my grad school class on mental retardation, I had to refer to a book I owned and saw something I hadn't seen for a long time:

To "Chizi" and "Mom", Make your miracles happen. ~Chris Burke

I stared quite awhile at that autograph in the autobiography Chris Burke signed for me. I'm not sure why I was so moved and inspired by just seeing it. Of course it could be because I've been knee-deep reading about mental retardation these days and watching countless episodes of Life Goes On (yes, TV is my assignment). As I thumbed through his memoirs, I was reminded yet again of how much I admired Chris Burke.

A long time ago, I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing Chris Burke for an article I wrote for a local newspaper. As a high school student, I was a staff writer for the OC Register's now defunct weekend feature called "Kid to Kid News." As a teenager looking into a career in journalism, this was right up my alley. My favorite television show during this time was Life Goes On starring Chris Burke and the incomparable Patti LuPone. Chris Burke starred as a young man living in working class Glen Brook, USA undergoing the struggles of everyday life with Down Syndrome. The show was inspiring, wholesome family entertainment (my parents even regularly watched the show too) that definitely brought newfound exposure to Downs and mental retardation.

I pitched many story ideas to the editors of "Kid to Kid News" and all had a purpose to educate. I found great motivation to write about topics that had some kind of substance and not just "fluff" pieces. My biggest aim was in educating society about those living with disabilities. Most pitches were accepted and I wrote several pieces about the misconceptions of the visually impaired. While I remain very proud of the work I did about the visually impaired, one of the most exciting articles I had an opportunity to work on was interviewing Chris Burke who played Charles "Corky" Thatcher on Life Goes On.

After receiving approval for this article from my editor, I got a phone call from the show's publicist (oh the irony, huh?) to arrange the interview on set (my first time on any set) with Chris Burke! Cut to: the drive to the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank. It was a rainy morning and the first time since I had my drivers license that I would schlepp all the way to "The Valley" (oh, the irony again...). I remember driving onto the Warner Bros. lot, meeting the publicist (I still have his business card) and walking to Chris' trailer for the interview. It was an amazing experience. He was sweet, funny, bright and upbeat. We had a lovely conversation and chatted some more with his father all the while the publicist couldn't look anymore bored and absolutely uninterested in everything being said (typical).

Before I had seen any episodes of Life Goes On, my only experience with anyone who was mentally retarded was in books, magazines and those wretched stereotypes on TV. I certainly didn't know anyone with Down Syndrome. Watching Chris' character live his normal life with some challenges taught me a lot about Downs. Though Chris is high functioning, there are many other people whose lives are far more difficult than his. Some people don't have families because they abandon or disown them, ultimately giving them up. Some people don't know what its like to have true love and support.

Walking away from the interview, I remember feeling really good about the entire experience, in particular though was Chris' attitude towards life. He called his disorder "Up Syndrome" because he was so happy and satisfied with his life. His attitude was admirable and not just because he was disabled, but because he was so determined and accomplished as a human being. I truly believe that Chris is grateful for the life he's been given. Not to say that he doesn't have his own struggles in life because we all do. Life with Downs is something that Chris has only known but its because of it and the support of his family and friends that he has become the success he is today. Sometimes life throws some curve balls at you, but its what you do with the life you're given that is the true gift.


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