By Mike Bush
St. Louis (KSDK) - Most doctors choose their specialty. In the case of Dr. Jan Brunstrom, her specialty chose her.
"I never thought I would do this," she explained.
One of the busiest doctors at St. Louis Children's Hospital, she and her team treat kids with cerebral palsy, more than 2,000 a year. They come from as far away as Europe and on this day, she had patients from Philadelphia and Cedar Rapids.
"She understands the needs of the kids," said mom Donna Ferguson from Pennsylvania.
Kristi Trotter from Iowa, another mom added, "She really looks at it whatever abilities children do have rather than which ones they don't."
Cerebral palsy is the term for a non-contagious group of disorders that affect a person's ability to move their limbs, maintain posture and in some cases communicate. These children face many challenges and no one knows that better than Dr. Brunstrom. She too has cerebral palsy.
"When I was born," she said, "they told my dad that I had zero chance of survival."
Born premature and during a time when children with CP were pretty much written off, Dr. Brunstrom's parents took a different approach.
"My mom was really tough and she wasn't going to let me grow up and be dependent on other people," she explained.
With some tough love, she didn't just fit in she stood out.
Graduating from the Medical College of Virginia, she came to Children's Hospital on the path to become a neo-natal neurologist, not to work with CP patients.
"At first it was kicking and screaming because I couldn't handle seeing myself in the mirror," she said.
But she decided to make other plans because colleagues convinced her she could make a difference.
In 1998, she started the Pediatric Neurology Cerebral Palsy Center putting together a team of experts from neurosurgeons to speech therapists to help kids with CP achieve their potential.
"The worst thing you can say is that I can't do that," explained Nurse Practitioner Helen Race. "We say, no you never say that. You say, I'll try to do that."
For kids like 10-year-old Matthew Ferguson, the bar is set high.
"The first time she saw him, she said why doesn't he run?" recalled his mom.
"Before I could not run, I couldn't jump, I couldn't do all that stuff," laughed Matthew. " And now, I'm really good at doing all that!"
Make no mistake, everyday is a battle for these kids. Just like it was for their doctor.
"I had some people where I walked into the room and they looked at me and said I want the real doctor," she remembered.
Dr. Brunstrom believes that there will, one day, be a cure for CP but in the meantime she gets great satisfaction when a patient makes a giant leap just by taking a small step.
"I love it when I see kids run or walk for the first time, "said Dr. Brunstrom. "Or when I see kids succeed at things nobody ever thought they could do."
Her patients will tell you that Dr. Brunstrom isn't just a specialist, she's special. All her treatments may be cutting edge but the best medicine may be her good example.