Our Son, Our HERO

in the words of Tom Lambke (1955 - 2016)

Sadly, Tom Lambke passed away on July 10, 2016. As a tribute to his legacy, Tom's wife, Karen, is making I Just Am available for purchase on Amazon. He is greatly missed by all.

My Great Story — National Down Syndrome Society


Karen and I had been married for over four years and were itching to start a family. Finally, on December 3, 1981, after one miscarriage, our son,  Bryan, was born. As I witnessed this miracle in the delivery room, I noticed our baby's eyes looked different. I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach as I realized our baby boy had Down syndrome. Incredibly, my first selfish though was, Now, who will I play baseball with?“” Karen's oldest sister also had a baby boy with Down syndrome. But Patrick had passed away the previous year due to a heart condition.

Obviously, we did not have much experience with individuals with adisability, so Karen and I decided to raise Bryan as best we could. To us, that meant taking him with us everywhere we went. Bryan experienced a lot his first few years. When he was just six months old, we flew from Illinois to California to visit my brother, Ken. He went to parties and concerts.

Then, when Bryan was ten-months-old, his doctor detected a heart murmur. Heart surgery is a traumatic event for anyone to experience, but Bryan displayed strength and courage beyond his young age. The hole in his heart was repaired with a Teflon patch, which would grow with his heart. After a five-week stay, including his first birthday in intensive care, our beautiful -- and now healthy -- son was allowed to come home. Little did we know that would be the last moment of sadness that Bryan would bring to our lives for the next twenty-six years.

As we sailed through life, adding our daughter, Shauna, we discovered a world full of prejudices and stereotypes. We encountered many people who did not view someone with a disability as an equal. There were still many who looked at Bryan with sorrow and at us with sympathy. We had some frustrating years, including many stages of Bryan's education, but we used his personality to open doors socially. We realized we had become advocates for Bryan and others with disabilities by simply doing what we thought was best for him.

At the age of eight, Bryan started competing in Special Olympics. He enjoyed track and field, running the fifty meters and competing in the softball throw. It allowed him to grow socially as well as physically. Since that initial competition, Bryan has won numerous medals in other sports: basketball, swimming, kayaking, and bowling. Although he did try Challenger Baseball, he did not like it, and Shauna grew up to be the softball player in our family.

Our lives changed forever in June of 2002, when I was chosen to be Bryan's partner in Unified bowling at the 2003 Special Olympics Summer World Games in Ireland. The excitement leading up to the games, the trip to Ireland itself, and the notoriety we experienced when we came home with gold medals, allowed me to complete a lifelong dream of writing a book. Our lives with Bryan resulted in Spirit, Courage, and Resolve: A Special Olympics Athlete's Road to Gold. While researching and writing the book, I changed careers. I am now an Instructional Assistant, also known as a paraprofessional, in Special Education where Shauna (2003) and Bryan (2001) both graduated.

Meanwhile, on his twenty-first birthday, Bryan got a tattoo. It is a logo of his and our favorite band, Aerosmith. He has had his ear pierced and he holds two jobs. More importantly, Bryan and I have co-authored a second book. I Just Am: A Story Of Down Syndrome Awareness and Tolerance explains Bryan's thoughts and feelings about his disability, and how he perceives how others may feel. It contains many pictures of Bryan and his friends. It also includes many facts about Down syndrome that most people should know, but we have discovered over the years, they do not.

We have appeared on many television shows in Phoenix and Tucson, been featured in articles and numerous newspapers and magazines, and are members of the Advisory Board of Best Buddies Arizona. Best Buddies is an organization started by Anthony Kennedy Shriver in 1989 which pairs high school students with disabilities with others to form friendships and encourage them to do activities at school as well as away from school. We use I Just Am as a tool to speak about awareness and tolerance of individuals with disabilities to schools of all grades and Down syndrome groups throughout the country.

Bryan's goals and dreams do not differ much from those without a disability. Someday he would like to get married and live on his own. He has brought so much joy to us each and every day. He has been a positive influence on all his relatives and anyone he touches. When he was born, many people tried to make Karen and I feel better by telling us that God had chosen us because we were special. We have always known it is Bryan who is special. Not only because of his disability, but because of how he has accepted his life, with joy and love for all. I thank God every day for giving us Bryan.