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Disabled woman celebrates family’s help in graduating high school

The Gaines family of Shingle Springs from left, Brooke, Wanda, Brittany and Bill celebrate Brittany’s high school graduation at a Mother’s Day brunch at Sierra Vista Winery on Sun., May 8, 2016 in Placerville, Calif. Brittany, 23, was born with cerebral palsy and is legally blind but is determined to go on to college. Brittany’s mom, Wanda, expressed that if she hadn’t given birth to Brittany, she would have only taught her daughter Brooke, 24, not to stare at children with disabilities but now she said she encourages others to go up and chat, be kind and make a friend with those that have special needs.
The Gaines family of Shingle Springs from left, Brooke, Wanda, Brittany and Bill celebrate Brittany’s high school graduation at a Mother’s Day brunch at Sierra Vista Winery on Sun., May 8, 2016 in Placerville, Calif. Brittany, 23, was born with cerebral palsy and is legally blind but is determined to go on to college. Brittany’s mom, Wanda, expressed that if she hadn’t given birth to Brittany, she would have only taught her daughter Brooke, 24, not to stare at children with disabilities but now she said she encourages others to go up and chat, be kind and make a friend with those that have special needs. rbyer@sacbee.com

Over mimosas, omelets and crepes at Sierra Vista Winery on Sunday, the Gaines family of Shingle Springs celebrated the achievements of both mother Wanda Gaines and daughter Brittany Gaines.

For 23-year-old Brittany, success meant graduating in March from a correspondence high school course despite battling cerebral palsy and being legally blind and quadriplegic. For Wanda, Mother’s Day brought recognition of all the work she and her husband have put in over the years to help their daughter graduate.

Although bulging disks in her back made for a rough night, Brittany Gaines laughed Sunday between sips of mimosa from a red straw held by her mom. Behind the motorized chair she manipulates with her head sprawled the snow-dusted Sierra Nevada.

“Go ahead, sweet girl; is that good?” her mother asked, then fed her a bite of omelet.

“I don’t like it,” the young woman answered, so her older sister Brooke, an elementary school teacher in Folsom, brought her a blueberry-and-chocolate crepe that she nibbled on. Brittany Gaines wore a purple top emblazoned with the word “believe” in silver and held a pink cellphone.

“Brittany’s a very bright young lady, full of life and excited about planning her future,” said her mom.

The new graduate’s success has impressed her community as well. On June 14, she’ll be crowned Miss Shingle Springs/Cameron Park 2016 by the local chamber of commerce, “in honor of her beautiful personality, good heart, community service, excellent grades, positive attitude and determination to achieve all of her goals in life – despite the challenges she faces.”

Bill Gaines, a wildlife lobbyist, said his younger daughter was delivered as a baby by emergency cesarean section 9 1/2 weeks early. “Her lungs weren’t fully developed; she came out blue and was given a 5 percent chance of survival,” he said.

The woman now sees the world as if in blurred watercolors. When she’s not in pain, however, “she’s really dialed in,” her sister said.

Brittany Gaines had dreamed of earning a high school diploma, but nearby Ponderosa High didn’t have the level of wheelchair access or professional help she needed, her mom said.

So in 2010, she enrolled at Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a correspondence school based in Winnetka, Ill., that gave her the chance to learn online and mail in assignments. Hadley “helped give me the access I needed,” she wrote in an email to The Sacramento Bee. “My favorite course was math. With the strong support of my dedicated family and assistants, I graduated with a 3.83 GPA!” Gaines said she plans to attend Folsom Lake College and work as a guidance counselor.

She added, “I wouldn’t be who I am today without my mom. … Because I am quadriplegic, my mom has to help with nearly everything I do. My mom still has to help me get out of bed every day, help me shower, get dressed, brush my teeth, do my hair, my makeup, and even help me get on and off the toilet.”

When she dreamed of being a cheerleader with the Ponderosa Jr. Bruins, “my mom agreed to be a coach of the team, helped me cheer and even helped the team create cheers which I could participate in. … I guess I have kind of a Super Mom. She has always told me to forget about my disability and set lofty goals in life.”

Wanda Gaines said it’s been a two-way street. “She’s taught me patience, determination, acceptance. Before I had Brittany, I would have taught my kids not to stare if they saw a disabled person, but now I teach people to go out of their way to say, ‘Hello, how’s it going?’ Be a friend. Be kind.”

Brittany Gaines received her diploma March 12 in a ceremony emceed by her sister featuring testimonials and videos from teachers, friends and neighbors. El Dorado County Sheriff John D’Agostini spoke at the ceremony, telling the crowd: “Life is based on choices. In my line of work, I see plenty of people who give up. Brittany, you’ve never, never given up!”

Stephen Magagnini: 916-321-1072, @SteveMagagnini

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