The leading human rights organization for all individuals with Down syndrome.

National Down Syndrome Society
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New York New York 10017
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Our Son, Our HERO
Our Son, Our HERO

Karen and I had been married over four years and were itching to start our family. Finally, on December 3, 1981, after one miscarriage, our son Bryan was born. As I witnessed this miracle in the delivery room, I noticed our baby's eyes looked different. I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach as I realized our baby boy had Down syndrome. Incredibly, my first selfish thought was, "Now who will I play baseball with?" Karen's oldest sister also had a baby boy with Down syndrome. But Patrick had passed away the previous year due to a heart condition. Obviously, we did not have much experience with individuals with a disability, so Karen and I decided to raise Bryan as best as we could. To us that meant taking him with us everywhere we went. Bryan experienced a lot his first few years. When he was just six months old, we flew from Illinois to California to visit my brother, Ken. He went to parties and concerts. Then, when Bryan was ten months old, his doctor detected a heart murmur. Heart surgery is a traumatic event for anyone to experience, but Bryan displayed strength and courage beyond his young age. The hole in his heart was repaired with a Teflon patch which would grow with his heart. After a five week stay, including his first birthday in intensive care, our beautiful and now-healthy son was allowed to come home. Little did we know that would be the last moment of sadness that Bryan would bring to our lives for the next twenty-six years. As we sailed through life, adding our daughter, Shauna, we discovered a world full of prejudices and stereotypes. We encountered many people who did not view someone with a disability as an equal. There were still many who looked at Bryan with sorrow and at us with sympathy. We had some frustrating years, including many stages of Bryan's education, but we used his personality to open doors socially. We realized we had become advocates for Bryan and others with disabilities by simply doing what we thought was best for him. At the age of eight, Bryan started competing in Special Olympics. He enjoyed track and field, running the fifty meters and competing in the softball throw. It allowed him to grow socially as well as physically. Since that initial competition, Bryan has won numerous medals in other sports: basketball, swimming, kayaking and bowling. Although he did try Challenger Baseball, he did not like it and Shauna grew up to be the softball player in our family. Our lives were changed forever in June of 2002, when I was chosen to be Bryan's partner in Unified bowling at the 2003 Special Olympics Summer World Games in Ireland. The excitement leading up to the games, the trip to Ireland itself, and the notoriety we experienced when we came home with gold medals, allowed me to complete a lifelong dream of writing a book. Our lives with Bryan resulted in: SPIRIT, COURAGE and RESOLVE " a Special Olympics Athlete's Road to Gold. While researching and writing the book, I changed careers. I am now an Instructional Assistant, also known as a paraprofessional, in Special Education at the high school where Shauna (2003) and Bryan (2001) both graduated. Meanwhile, on his twenty-first birthday, Bryan got a tattoo. It is a logo of his and our favorite band, Aerosmith. He has had his ear pierced and he holds two jobs. More importantly, Bryan and I have co-authored a second book. I JUST AM a Story of Down Syndrome Awareness and Tolerance which explains Bryan's thoughts and feelings about his disability and how he perceives others may feel. It contains many pictures of Bryan and his friends. It also includes many facts about Down syndrome that most people should know, but we have discovered over the years, they do not. We have appeared on many television shows in Phoenix and Tucson, been featured in articles in numerous newspapers and magazines, and are members of the Advisory Board of Best Buddies Arizona. Best Buddies is an organization started by Anthony Kennedy Shriver in 1989 which pairs high school students with disabilities with others to form friendships and encourage them to do activities at school as well as away from school. We use I JUST AM as a tool to speak about awareness and tolerance of individuals with disabilities to schools of all grades and Down syndrome groups throughout the country. Bryan's goals and dreams do not differ much from those without a disability. Someday he would like to get married and live on his own. He has brought so much joy to us each and every day. He has been a positive influence on all his relatives and anyone he touches. When he was born, many people tried to make Karen and I feel better by telling us that God had chosen us because we were special. We have always known it is Bryan who is special. Not because of his disability, but because of how he has accepted his life, with joy and love for all. I thank God every day for giving us Bryan. --- Tom is a paraprofessional in special education at Corona del Sol High School in Tempe, Arizona, and also works as a baseball and softball umpire. Daughter Shauna is also a paraprofessional in special education at a local high school as well. Along with his wife, Karen, Tom is the founder and former president of Recreation and Athletics for the Disabled (RAD). RAD is a nonprofit group in Chandler that financially assists individuals with disabilities to participate in recreational activities. Tom and Bryan will be speaking at the World Down Syndrome Congress in Ireland in 2009. Learn more about Tom's publications at and

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Comments (1,000 character limit)

Gayle Gaines, United States, AZ
7/11/2016 5:30:26 PM
What an amazing story this is. We are fortunate to know Tom, and he is always eager to share about his son's life and the work they do as well as the books they've written. He is so proud of Bryan. We need more people like this in this world to inspire us to reach out.

Michelle Estrada, United States, AZ
6/2/2011 3:29:30 PM
Bryan is one of our local heroes. My daughter is 3-12 and we have just started with the Special Olympics Young Athletes group, and we are so excited to be a part of it. Thanks Bryan for the inspiration!

Shelley Hosein, Trinidad and Tobago,
6/12/011 9:25:09 PM
"This story is very inspiring. My son is 18 now and also enters special olympics. My biggest concern now is his ability to handle relationships with girls of compatible natures. How did you do it?? You guys are awesome. Thank you Shelley

Stephanie Bohling, United States, NJ
6/12/011 5:37:16 PM
I thought the story was awesome and intend to check out the books, especially just as I am. I have a 3 yr old daughter with Down syndrome and as you and your family, we also treat her just like our other 2 girls. This year will be her first Special Olympics

Alison Martin, United States, CA
6/12/011 12:11:46 PM
"So beautiful! I find that same joy in my 5 year old son, Aidan, who has DS."

Nicole Forgione, United States, NY
6/12/011 11:59:16 AM
Thank you for sharing your story.

Irina Vislan, Romania,
5/30/2011 6:43:12 AM
Dear Bryan, I am happy to be your friend. We, the people with Down syndrome, are very good. Let's the other know us. Hugs, Irina.

Charlotte Davidge, United States, TX
5/29/2011 4:12:22 PM
I am so proud of my grandson Bryan.

Cynthia Mueller, United States, AZ
5/29/2011 4:05:51 PM
You are a inspiration to all of us. What a wonderful story of love!

Laura Chapnek, United States, AZ
5/29/2011 1:29:03 PM
What an inspirational story about Bryan and his family. We are fortunate to have them as a part of our community.

Michelle Adams, United States, AZ
5/27/2011 9:29:08 PM
What a wonderful young man!

Shauna, United States, AZ
5/27/2011 12:06:17 PM
I am proud to call Bryan my brother. He is the best brother anyone could have! I love you buddy!!

Wally Latall, United States, AZ
5/27/2011 9:03:23 AM
I hold the highest admiration and respect for Bryan, Tom, Karen and and their entire Family and I am very proud to know them. Bryan and his parents should serve as an inspiration to all! I remain your friend and strong supporter, Wally Latall

KL, United States, AZ
5/26/2011 4:01:40 PM
Thank you T for putting into words our "Wonderful Life" you make my heart smile...

Carly Pridham, United States, CA
5/26/2011 3:57:10 PM
It was a pleasure to be apart of special olympics, Ireland with tom and bryan. They were and still are a great team together!

Carolyn Alber, United States, AZ
5/26/2011 3:50:07 PM
The Albers have know Bryan for how many bowling years? He is always friendly and happy. If only most people would follow his example . Keep the great joy in your heart, I know you will. Love, The Albers

Gigi John McPhee, United States, IL
5/26/2011 2:53:35 P
"What a wonderful story, I do remember when Bryan was born and thought of all you would be up to but little did I know you where going to be a gold medalist in the Special Olympics. What a wonderful family! Gigi McPhee"

Jessica DeBiase, United States, AZ
5/26/2011 1:37:59 PM
"Bryan and Tom, As always, I enjoy learning and hearing about your life experiences. Bryan, you are such an inspiration to many! Jessica DeBiase"

Meagan Tarquino, United States, AZ
5/26/2011 12:18:49 PM
Great Story!!!

Bryan Lambke, United States, AZ
5/26/2011 11:33:20 AM
Thank you for all the nice comments. I love my sister Shauna and my mom and dad.

Tammy Forrest, United States, AZ
5/26/2011 8:22:16 AM
Bryan is an awesome young man. He is always positive, upbeat and wanting to help others. I had the privilege of being one of Bryan's teachers and the Lambke family holds a special place in my heart.

Steve Newlander, United States, AZ
5/25/2011 8:45:29 PM
Tom writes very well, however I am a little bias, knowing him since we were 9-years old, and he is certainly a tough bird throughout, he beat me roughly in competitive sports as well as I took some revenge at times, I think I remember, but very proud of him

Tom Tkach, United States, PA
5/25/2011 8:43:19 PM
My son (who also has Down Syndrome) and I had the pleasure of meeting Bryan, Tom, Karen and Shauna earlier this year. We were on our way to Chandler, AZ to visit family when I came across an article about them in a book I was reading on the airplane.

Michele Fiorenza President DSNetwork, United States, AZ
5/25/2011 7:55:55 PM
Wonderful story and amazing family. We are extremely proud and honored to have Tom, Karen, Bry, and Shauna as our role model's as we raise our daughter with Down Syndrome. It is also helpful that they are our neighbors. This kind of connection is no co

Tom Maki, Australia, Christmas Island
5/25/2011 4:50:49 PM
I have the honor of working with Tom and Bryan over the past 5 years. My favorite day of the week is Wednesday because that is when Bryan volunteers at school! Bryan, your spirit and character are unmatched and I am grateful that I have gotten to know you

KL, United States, AZ
5/25/2011 4:34:45 PM
Bryan I am so proud of you and your sister. You and Shauna are the bright lights in my heart.

Judy Rohlicek, United States, IL
5/25/2011 10:43:24 AM
I met Tom & Karen when Karen was pregnant with Bryan. It is a true testament to them that their son has so overcome his disability that anyone who meets him can't help but see Down Syndrome as something as "different" as having blue eyes instead of brown

Liana Vislan, Romania,
5/25/2011 4:48:33 AM
Keep it going on!

Clayton, United States, AZ
5/25/2011 3:27:05 AM
Love the Lambkes

Pat Nikolaisen, United States, AZ
5/25/2011 3:03:50 AM
What a great family and full of inspiration and joys? JJ still talks about Bryan from school days. It's a Blessing to share in joys and friendship.

Janet Wichmann, South Africa,
5/25/2011 2:42:47 AM
"Uplifting, full of courage, enthusiasm & true to yourselves. I remember the pleasure of meeting you both at the DS congress in Dublin. Continue to encourage others through your attitude & example which you so ably set. Be blessed indeed! Remembering you"

Doug Liebman, United States, AZ
5/25/2011 1:02:41 AM
Bryan continues to keep his family and friends busy keeping the pace. Everyone can learn from his desire to achieve!

Anna Burkholder, United States, AZ
5/25/2011 12:51:09 AM
Love the Lamke family... Bryan is AMAZING! This family is just great all around.. I've known Tom and Bryan for a few years now and am blessed to know them!

Sarah, United States, AZ
5/24/2011 11:27:15 PM
No one deserves this more than Bryan and his family. Truly inspiring Individuals:)

Kim-Marie Gumbert, United States, AZ
5/24/2011 9:44:31 PM
I had the privileged of teaching Brian. He has become an awesome adult.

Ric Grassmick, United States, AZ
5/24/2011 8:57:37 PM
Truly amazing story about a wonderful young man and his family, who don't let an inconvenience stand in the way of them enjoying a full life. Tom Lambke was our son's special needs aide while he was in high school. Meeting Bryan and his family is definite

Tim Lidster, United States, AZ
5/24/2011 7:17:17 PM
I've know the Lambkes for almost 20 years and have been so inspired by them that it's hard to put into words. I'm so proud to call them friends. Let me echo the sentiments of so many that commented before me--You Rock Lambkes!!

Karen Gaffney, United States, OR
5/24/2011 5:12:35 PM
"Great story! Congrats to Tom and Bryan! karen"

Sandra Caldwell, United States, AZ
5/24/2011 4:59:09 PM
This is a fantastic story! I really like how Tom describes how he is blessed & his life has been enhanced having Brian in it! Love it!

Danny Beutner, United States, AZ
5/24/2011 4:59:05 PM
Good Job Lambkes!

Sue, United States, AZ
5/24/2011 4:53:55 PM
Great story!

Nacho Hurtado, United States, AZ
5/24/2011 4:51:36 PM
Awesome story. The challenges that this young man has conquered are amazing and his family has been there for him through all the tough desicions and helping Bryan become a son we all wish we could have.

Amy Gaston, United States, AZ
5/24/2011 4:47:32 PM
I am truly lucky to know Bryan and Tom Lambke. I have learned so much about downs syndrome and disabilities in general, from both of them. I definitely believe that Bryan was placed on this earth to spread love and awareness. Keep up the fantastic work Br

Ruby Cheeks, United States, AZ
5/24/2011 4:44:15 PM
Bryan is an inspiration to all who know him. Bryan, YOU ROCK!

Charles Redner, United States, CA
5/24/2011 4:36:15 PM
Best wishes, Charlie

Janet Romo, United States, AZ
5/24/2011 4:26:00 PM
What a wonderful story. Tom has done so much to help Bryan and keep him active and in the community. Janet Giel-Romo

Shannon D. R. Ringenbach, PhD, United States, AZ
5/24/2011 3:13:01 PM
Bryan and Tom have changed many lives for the better, mine included.

Tom Lambke, United States, AZ
5/24/2011 2:13:30 PM
My wife and I are so proud of Bryan and his accomplishments. But I think we appreciate even more how he has changed lives and attitudes of others. He is an amazing young man who has truly shown us the way!

Bob Walters, United States, AZ
5/24/2011 2:00:38 PM
As a fellow umpire I've known Tom for years. Both he & Bryan are 2 remarkable individuals who are truly compassionate about bringing more awareness to coping with anyone inflicted with Down Syndrome.

Erika Villanueva, United States, AZ
5/24/2011 1:44:40 PM
Great story!

Greg, United States, AZ
5/24/2011 1:36:37 PM
I love your story! May God bless you richly, Brian, in whatever you do! 5242011 1:36:37 PM

Joyce Glass, United States, AZ
5/24/2011 1:27:01 PM
Bryan and his supportive family always striving to reach the "gold"!

Tyler Phillips , United States, AZ
5/24/2011 12:52:57 PM
Inspiring and truly amazing!

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