By John W. Kennedy
Unlike many teen-agers, Adriene Patterson already has career goals
fixed in her mind. Ideally she wants to play womens basketball
or to be an Olympic skier. If those dont pan out, she figures
she can fall back on being an obstetrician, musician or singer.
Lofty pursuits for any young person. Yet especially for Adriene,
who is blind.
Lest one think such dreams are beyond reality, Adriene who
turned 16 on March 8 already has played basketball, skied,
played flute and sung in front of large crowds.
Adriene is not just blind; she has no eyes. She is one of only an
estimated 50 people in history born with a genetic condition known
as cryptophthalmos syndrome, where the eyelid skin grows continuously
from the forehead to the cheek. After Adrienes birth, doctors
determined through research that her parents, although unrelated,
had as close a genetic match as if they were siblings.
At birth, Adriene had golf-ball-sized bulges of skin where her eye
sockets should have formed. Doctors operated on Adriene when she was
3 months to relieve pressure, making incisions on each side where
her eyes would have been.
Cryptophthalmos also results in a host of other medical problems;
Adriene has overcome bowel problems and lives with one kidney.
However, unlike many blind people, Adriene has excellent equilibrium
and balance. She negotiates with ease around the family home, using
the telephone and microwave with the same alacrity as a sighted person.
A change in plans
Adrienes zest for living has impacted those around her. But
no one has been as transformed by Adrienes presence as her father.
Up until Adrienes birth, Greg Patterson admittedly had been
more interested in driving fast cars than in being a father. But his
outlook changed in the hospital when he witnessed the birth of a daughter
who needed extra care.
"I knew I had to take responsibility," says Greg, whose home with
Adriene and his 11-year-old daughter, Aimee, is in the southern Paseo
district of Kansas City, Mo. Immediately, Greg began making plans
to ensure that Adriene would receive the nurturing and financial care
"I never questioned the Lord about Adriene," Greg says. "God gave
me an opportunity to see life again through my daughter. I knew I
had a special child."
Although he always has taken an active role in raising his daughters,
for the past seven years Adriene and Aimee have lived exclusively
with their father. Their mother is now married to another man. Greg
operates Adriene Exclusive Limousines from his home. Initially the
chauffeur service had been a weekend supplement to his income, but
now its a full-time business with Greg specializing in transporting
corporate executives around Kansas City. He works the profession around
his daughters lives, making sure he sees the girls off to school
each day. Before he leaves for a day of professional chauffeuring,
he may be busy ironing clothes for his girls.
Although the service is named after Adriene, Aimee is more involved,
doing everything from taking customers calls to opening the
limo doors for clients when shes not in school.
"I dont have time to be at home," Adriene says. "Im too
Indeed, Adriene has a busy life, balancing school, work and church
Adriene has had a hectic schedule almost since birth. With help from
the United Way, Greg enrolled 3-month-old Adriene in a semiweekly
infant care program for the visually impaired. There she learned how
to walk and read braille. She has attended public school since age
Living for the Lord
The Pattersons attend Sheffield Assembly of God in Kansas City, Mo.
(George W. Westlake Jr., pastor). The childrens missions coordinator
at Sheffield contacted Paul Weingartner, director of the Assemblies
of God National Center for the Blind in Springfield, Mo., about obtaining
Christian reading materials for Adriene. Although Weingartner had
a braille Bible to send to Adriene, he had no childrens literature.
"When I hung up the phone, it tore me apart," Weingartner says. "It
was painful to tell someone just because she was blind she couldnt
participate in the same activities as other children."
Weingartner resolved to work extra hours every day to translate Assemblies
of God childrens literature into braille. His efforts led to
the Patterson family becoming committed to Sheffield as well as the
"We dont miss church because of our business," says Greg, who
also sings in the choir at Sheffield.
Richie Hanes, childrens pastor at the multicultural, inner-city
church of 3,200, says in the six years he has known Adriene she has
changed from a bashful young girl to a maturing teen who is a bold
witness for the Lord.
"Kids really like to be around her," Hanes says. "Shes always
full of joy and has been a real inspiration to others. To her, just
because she doesnt have eyes doesnt mean she is handicapped."
At Central High School, the inner-city public school where Adriene
is a sophomore, she and two pals from Sheffields youth group
have started the 1-2-1 Club. The club focuses on personal evangelism,
Bible study, field trips and daily prayer around the school flagpole.
Adriene has become a leader among her sighted peers and mentor to
younger children. Many of her friends are Caucasian. "Color is nothing
to me," Adriene says. "I dont look at the outside; I look at
the heart. Were all Gods people."
In 1999, the Assemblies of God officially opened the Adriene Resource
Center for Blind Children at national headquarters in Springfield,
Mo. Although still in need of more financial support, the Adriene
Resource Center now regularly records childrens books on cassette
and translates books into braille. A charity golf tournament initially
raised $30,000 for the work.
From the moment he met Adriene in 1996, Weingartner knew that she
represented a tremendous example of how God can use people with disabilities.
At that first meeting on a basketball court, Weingartner saw Adriene
playing basketball and making baskets.
"Dad has taught me to try anything and everything," Adriene says.
"We can do all things through Christ."
Christianity is the center of daily life, according to Adriene. In
an effort to raise funds for the childrens library, she sometimes
travels to A/G churches on weekends with her father and sister, singing
and testifying about the Lord. Nothing that Adriene attempts is halfhearted,
and fear isnt a word in her vocabulary. She has learned how
to be a rock climber, water skier, bowler, bicycle rider and, through
ROTC, rifle shooter. Her determination comes naturally.
"I run a strong ship," says Greg, a handsome and youthful-looking
51. For example, when Adriene learned to play the flute by ear, Greg
required her to practice two hours a day.
Aimee does much of the cooking. Before they eat, Adriene prays, asking
God to remember children who have no food to eat.
"I love babies," Adriene says. "Theyre so cute." Last summer,
Adriene worked six hours a day as program coordinator intern for Campfire
Boys and Girls. Among other activities, Adriene helped visually impaired
children learn how to swim, run races and perform karate. Among the
career options she envisions is being a ski helper for children with
"Its a perfectly reasonable goal if its something she
wants to do," says Tina Jenkins, Campfire adventure fitness coordinator
who is visually impaired. "We try to instill that we are all capable
of serving to some degree."
The independent-minded Adriene already is making plans to move into
her own apartment. She hopes to secure a full-time Campfire job next
She also is looking forward to attending college and studying communications.
One of Adrienes favorite pastimes is talking, and she has a
voice-mail pager. She has a memory full of information and can rattle
off addresses, phone numbers and milestone dates with the accuracy
of a computer. That is just one of her multiple skills and talents.
"I try to do everything I can, but Im not perfect," Adriene
says. "The only one who is perfect is Jesus."
Through Christ, Adriene just might make it to the Olympics.
"Children who are blind can go as far as they want," Weingartner
says. "They just need people to believe in them and be willing to
John W. Kennedy is an associate editor for the