Quinn Bradlee: A Different Life
Born into a privileged family, Quinn Bradlee has had anything but an easy life. During childhood, he was told he’d never be able to read a book let alone write one.
Against all odds, however, the son of former Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee and best-selling author Sally Quinn has written a refreshingly honest memoir.
“A Different Life: Growing Up Learning Disabled and Other Adventures” chronicles his painful struggle with velo-cardio-facial syndrome (VCFS), a genetic disorder that causes severe physical ailments and learning disorders.
Bradlee, 27, was born with a hole in his heart. At just three months, doctors opened his chest to fix it. And that was just the beginning.
Quinn suffered epilepsy and a weak immune system that left him chronically sick with seizures, migraines and fevers. Four surgeries were required to repair a cleft palate.
His doctors were stumped. They said he’d never be able to read, write, go to high school, get a job or make friends. And girlfriends? Don’t even go there.
Finally at age 14, a researcher diagnosed velo-cardio-facial syndrome. VCFS afflicts 150,000 Americans. It is the second-most common genetic disorder after Down syndrome, yet most of us have never heard of it.
The exact cause of the incurable disorder is unknown, but many children diagnosed with VCFS are missing a small part of chromosome 22. Each person who has the syndrome has different mix of the 180 symptoms associated with VFCS, including scoliosis and distinct facial characteristics.
After attending Washington’s Lab School, Bradlee left home for The Gow School, a college prep boarding school for young men with learning disabilities (or as Quinn says, “learning differences”) near Buffalo, New York. He said the teasing at Gow was “terrible.”
“It’s hard going away,” he said. “But going to boarding school is the best way to learn about life because you can’t just run on home, you have to stay there and stick it out.”
By age 18, Quinn had fallen into a state of near-suicidal depression. But he refused to quit. A fighter all of his life, he slowly climbed out of the “dark hole” was in.
“You can’t give up in life,” he said. “It doesn’t do anybody any good, if you really think about it in the long run.”
After graduating Gow with honors, he attended Landmark College and learned to “drive in the middle of nowhere and not get lost” and how to ask for help.
“I realized it doesn’t matter how powerful you are or who you are, you need help,” he said. “My mom has made me memorize the ancient Chinese proverb, ‘He who asks is a fool for five minutes, he who does not ask is a fool for life’ and I have lived by that.”
After Landmark, Quinn attended American University and the New York Film Academy, where he studied directing and editing films.
Bradlee soon went to work producing short documentary films about children with learning disabilities and rare genetic syndromes. And with Health Central, he launched FriendsOfQuinn.com, a social network for young people with learning disabilities and their families.
Bradlee’s memoir (written with Jeff Himmelman) allows us to walk in his shoes as he struggles and triumphs with VFCS. And with breathtaking honesty, he reveals intimate moments such as when he lost his virginity to a prostitute.
More than anything, Quinn writes, he just wanted a girlfriend. So, how’s that working out? After a long struggle with dating, he is engaged to be married to a yoga instructor he met in January.
“Life is a joyful pain,” Quinn says. “You have to suffer a little bit, but it makes life sweeter.” #