METHUEN — When he was 3 months old, Brett Wiegref was diagnosed with the rare blood disorder Diamond Blackfan anemia. Now at 17, Wiegref attends Methuen High School and tries to lead the normal life of a teenager.
“It used to affect me when I was younger because I would have to miss Friday and Saturday nights with my friends to be in the hospital,” Wiegref said. “I would be at the movies, and I would have to be picked up early to go to Boston for the night to be stuck with needles and come home the next morning, trying to figure out what I missed the night before.”
Now, Wiegref has more of a set schedule with his hospital visits for blood transfusions and even has a part-time job as a cashier at a local gas station. The job helps support his favorite activity — shopping.
“He has about 25 pairs of sneakers,” Wiegref’s mother, Corinna Grasso, said with a chuckle. “He has to have every pair of Jordan sneakers.”
Wiegref said he enjoys shopping at a couple of stores in Lawrence on Broadway but spends most of his time at the mall.
He also plays Texas hold ’em with his friends every weekend.
When Wiegref was at the Marsh Grammar School he was quite the athlete, playing football, basketball, baseball and wrestling. But when he stopped growing upon entering high school, he gave up sports.
Wiegref’s 5-foot-2 frame is one of the side effects of the steroids he had to take to battle the anemia.
“We’re looking into growth hormones,” Grasso said. “We’re not sure if he can take them.”
Because of the anemia, side effects of treatment and medications to treat the illness, Wiegref has developed congestive heart failure, liver disease, has an underactive thyroid and had to have his spleen removed.
The surgeries sometimes made him feel out of place around other kids his age.
“Like when I used to go to pool parties and stuff,” Wiegref said. “My scars used to be embarrassing, but now I like showing them off.”
Grasso laughed at her son’s comment.
“They’re like battle wounds now,” Grasso said. “The girls love them.”
Though he’s had a rough life thus far, Wiegref is looking forward to possibly attending Johnson & Wales University after high school to pursue a degree in culinary arts.
“Legal studies and cooking are my two favorite classes right now,” said Wiegref, whose favorite good is sushi. “We haven’t done much cooking though. The only thing we’ve done so far is make a salad.”
To help raise money for Diamond Blackfan anemia research Wiegref, Grasso and the rest of their family will be holding a fundraiser at the AmVets hall, 576 Primrose St., Haverhill, on March 15.
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