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One Direction helps fix all 'little things'

Marion's Brett Wheeler uses music as therapy

Born at 23 weeks, Brett Wheeler of Marion has had gone though several medical challenges, but has found the music of One Direction has helped with his therapy. (Family photo)
Born at 23 weeks, Brett Wheeler of Marion has had gone though several medical challenges, but has found the music of One Direction has helped with his therapy. (Family photo)
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MARION — Imagine never being able to see anything but pitch black.

No more looking at the green buds on the tips of the freshly reviving trees. No faces of a best friend.

Imagine relying on another’s eyesight to deal with any day-to-day tasks.

This is the life of Brett Wheeler, a sophomore at Marion High School. According to his mother, Jennifer Wheeler, the most comforting thing about Brett’s condition is he was born with it.

“He’s never seen, so he doesn’t know what he’s missing,” she said. “The whole world is beautiful to Brett.”

Born at 23 weeks, the doctors did not expect Wheeler to live past five minutes. Once he did, there were some obvious health problems to go along with the miracle.

“Brett was on a feeding tube for 11-and-a-half years,” his mother said.

For the entirety of those years, Wheeler spent two days a week at eating therapy, trying to figure out a solution to his problem — his lack of ability to eat with his mouth. They family tried everything they could possibly think of, but nothing seemed to work. Finally, his therapist had an idea, remembering, in 2012, Brett started developing an obsession with something that was taking the world by storm — One Direction. He listened to their music relentlessly, finding a comfort in throwing himself into the catchy melodies.

“My favorite song is ‘Little Things,’” Wheeler said. “It’s just so beautiful. I love the sound of the guitar. Sometimes I don’t understand how people can play and make it sound so pretty.”

One day, Brett’s therapist, on nothing more than a whim, began to type something into her laptop that would change his life forever.

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“She just Google searched One Direction’s favorite foods,” Jennifer said. “She went down the list of all of them, but all I can remember is her first saying that Harry’s favorite was sweet corn. I don’t even know if that’s true or not, all that mattered is that Brett wanted to try it.

“His therapist was kind of like ‘oh, well we’ve got some corn here if you want some,’ and right then that day, Brett ate for the first time.”

After an understandable amount of tears, and an overwhelming sense of joy, they began to undergo the task of continuing down this new and exciting path. Within a few months, Brett had tried every food on the list, and then some. He even developed favorite foods of his own and a hatred toward chocolate.

Before they knew it, they were able to take the device out.

“He requested that ‘Little Things’ be playing in the background as they were removing the tube, and after a whole lot of us both crying and praying, the tube was out,” his mother said. “After that, I guess the best way to explain it is that he prayed to One Direction and out loud he said ‘thank you for inspiring me in everything and changing my life.’”

The phenomenon did not stop there. After the therapeutic treatment worked in one area of Wheeler’s life, other people began to have a few ideas of their own.

“Brett struggled with learning Braille for a really long time,” Jennifer said. “One of his Special Ed teachers at the school heard about how One Direction had worked for the feeding tube and decided if it could work there, why couldn’t it work for learning Braille? She told him that for every sentence he could decode in Braille, he would get one random fact about One Direction. I think you can guess who’s a whiz at Braille now.”

Although removing the feeding tube and becoming better at Braille were definitely more major points in Brett’s life, One Direction hasn’t failed to aid in other smaller aspects.

“Brett has a pretty bad stutter, but his speech therapist has this app that she uses during their sessions that allow him to talk out the songs, and when he does this he doesn’t stutter,” his mother said. “It’s beyond amazing, everything this band has done for Brett is unheard of.”

One Direction has given Wheeler something he feels he can relate to with other people.

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“Before One Direction he basically lived in his room, he didn’t want to socialize with anyone,” his mother said. “Now he’s always talking to people, asking who their favorite member is as if everyone’s favorite band is One Direction. The band has given him some sort of new confidence.”

As many other One Direction fans often do, Brett has dreamed about meeting them. Not so surprisingly, his reasoning is a little bit deeper than just wanting to be in the same room as his idols.

“I would tell them all one by one, first Louis because he’s my favorite, then Niall, Harry, and Liam that I’m proud of them as a band for getting to be this big,” he said. “I would also tell them how much they’ve changed my life in so many different ways, for example the tube.”

Jennifer Wheeler Brett would probably cry if he met the band, just because they mean so much to him, and he’d probably end up trying to tell them everything all at once.

“I’d also scream and maybe faint if I ever met them,” she said, laughing.

While dealing with every day annoyances — like people not saying “excuse me” when they trip over his cane or making comments under their breath about his condition — Brett never fails to have a smile on his face.

“These kids teach us more about sincerity and love than any others,” his mother said. “They’re almost the lucky ones, actually.

“By not seeing all of the violence and hate that goes on in today’s world, everything is just beautiful to them. In the end, blindness almost isn’t a disability, just something we have to deal with,”

While others continue to believe his lack of eyesight might slow him down, Brett enjoys spending his free time bowling, playing on his phone, but most importantly to him, listening to One Direction. Whether it’s their newest music, the stuff they released four years ago, or even an interview on TV, Brett will never stop loving this band.

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So for now, he sticks to listening to “Little Things” on full blast in his room, hoping that maybe someday he’ll be allowed to meets his heroes.

Colemnan and other Marion students are encouraging others at the school and within the community will tweet at Ellen, Good Morning America and One Direction with the hashtag #GetBrettTo1D on today and Thursday.

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