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Boy whose story captured hearts in 2000 is now headed to college

MERRIAM, Kan. -- A boy whose battle with a rare condition inspired so many in Kansas City to donate to his cause, is now weighing his lofty ambitions as he prepares for college.

"Brenden Hill is one of those little guys who immediately captures your eye," said WDAF-TV reporter Meryl Lin McKean, who met Brenden when he was just a toddler.

Brenden was born with a rare and severe defect of the spine and rib cage. His lungs didn't have room to grow.

"It's life or death basically at some time, and they want to intervene now while he's healthy," said his mother, April Hill, in early 2000.

The Hills learned Brenden could have surgery to implant titanium ribs that could be expanded over time and allow him to breathe. But their health insurer considered it experimental and wouldn't pay.

"My parents got wind and contacted Channel 4 news," Hill said.

WDAF viewers responded by raising tens of thousands of dollars.

"We were just amazed. We couldn't believe it. I mean, this was way before social media," she said.

The insurer eventually paid part of the medical bills, and Brenden underwent a successful surgery in San Antonio.

Brenden is now 18 and a senior at Bishop Miege High School. Those titanium ribs are still in his chest.

"Yea, I can feel them, but I mean they feel pretty normal to me," he said.

Because of the spinal deformity, Brenden is 4 feet 6 inches tall and weighs 70 pounds, but his personality is still large.

"I was a gregarious kid and I've gotten a little bit more as time's gone on, so I just make friends over time. Just similar interests, that kind of thing. I'm kinda nerdy, so I find nerdy people," Brenden said.

His interests include video games and the Boy Scouts. This year, he became an Eagle Scout. He's in National Honor Society, too. Next fall, he'll go off to college.

"I've thought about going to medical school 'cause I mean I have a lot of experience in that field," he said.

Yes, the little guy that Kansas Citians rallied around long ago could become Dr. Hill.

"Yea, I have a little confidence there. That'll go a long way," said Brenden, a young man who's already come such a long way.