Eleven-year-old Lily Bennett has minimal use of her right hand and walks with a leg brace, but that doesn’t stop her from dancing, singing, and playing piano.
On November 22, she taught a class at UT’s College of Nursing to tell students about her stroke, living with cerebral palsy, and how future health care providers can better understand the needs of pediatric patients with disabilities.
“A lot of people think only older people have strokes, but kids have them too, and most people don’t realize that,” said Bennett, a sixth grader at Carpenters Middle School in Maryville, Tennessee. “If people know more about how my disability affects me, they will better know how to help me.”
Bennett suffered a pediatric stroke in utero and was born prematurely at 28 weeks weighing 2 pounds, 3 ounces. Her twin did not survive. Lily spent the first four years of her life in occupational and speech therapy, and learned to walk at two-and-a-half years old.
Lily’s mom, Jackie Bennett, is a 2016 UT College of Nursing graduate and oncology nurse at Blount Memorial Hospital.
“Lily is very outgoing,” said Jackie Bennett. “She’s like an open book and a great kid to do awareness.”
Bennett gave a PowerPoint presentation, showed a YouTube video she made about living with a disability, and answered questions before leading the class in a special activity to simulate what it’s like to live with cerebral palsy.
“Lily spoke to one of my summer classes a few months ago while her mom was still a student,” said Deb Chyka, clinical assistant professor of nursing. “She was really engaging and I was so impressed with her that I decided to make her a permanent part of my pediatric course curriculum. The students just loved having her.”
Bennett has spent the majority of her life overseas in Saudi Arabia, but also lived in Canada before moving to Tennessee in 2015.
Her dream is to start a nonprofit organization called “What I Want You to Know” and train other children with disabilities to give them a voice to share their own stories.
As for college plans, Bennett plans to stay on Rocky Top.
“I hope I get to go to UT someday and study business because I want to become an event planner,” she said. “I want to become an event planner because I love planning anything from birthday parties to holidays and other special occasions. This year I planned my mom’s birthday because she works really hard and I wanted to make a special day for her.”
Bennett is the youngest of four children.
“I have been very fortunate in my life because I could be someone who could not speak, talk, or even walk, yet I have been lucky enough to be able to travel with my family to many places around the world,” she said. “I love coming to UT to speak to students and I hope to have more opportunities to teach people about pediatric strokes.”
Bennett’s mom says her daughter never complains about her disability and is a great spokesperson.
“To have the opportunity to be taught by a child is invaluable,” she said.
Tyra Haag (865-974-5460, firstname.lastname@example.org)