- Associated Press - Sunday, April 9, 2017

KINGSPORT, Tenn. (AP) - He is literally unforgettable.

HK Derryberry, at age 26, is the young man who remembers everything.

Derryberry and Jim Bradford, 73, recounted their remarkable story and how they unexpectedly met during an event hosted April 4 by the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce and Leadership Kingsport.

Bradford, a Brentwood, Tenn., retiree, reached out to Derryberry when he was 9 years old and they have been friends since.

Due to an accident, Derryberry is blind with cerebral palsy, yet later on, he was diagnosed with hyperthymesia, also known as Superior Autobiographical Memory. He has the ability to recollect every event that has happened to him.

Born July 8, 1990, in Nashville, Derryberry arrived three months premature due to an automobile accident that took his mother’s life. He spent the next 96 days fighting for his life in Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s neonatal intensive care unit.

Doctors offered little hope for Derryberry’s survival. Because of the accident and his premature birth, he was born blind, with cerebral palsy and other medical issues. His father survived the automobile crash but didn’t want him and left his disabled son in the care of Derryberry’s grandmother.

On Oct. 16, 1999, Bradford had finished his morning tennis game and had planned on going to Starbucks for some coffee. Instead, he dropped into a Mrs. Winner’s Chicken and Biscuits to get a cup of Maxwell House.

“I saw this little boy sitting at a table by himself with his ear to the radio,” Bradford recalled. “I noticed he had shorts on and it was a cold morning. He had on a T-shirt with food stains. I asked who the boy was. A lady said, ‘That’s HK. . The lady who sold you the coffee is his grandmother. She can’t afford a babysitter, so he comes and sits while she works on the weekends.’ . That was 19 hours on the weekend. . I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’ . Then she sarcastically said, ‘He’s also blind.’ . I walked over to him and introduced myself.”

Bradford came back and would spend 30-40 minutes with Derryberry at a time. After three months of doing that, Derryberry would give Bradford a hug at the end of their time together.

The grandmother told Bradford, “He thinks you’re his best friend now, and every time you say bye, he thinks you won’t come back to see him.’ . That’s how our friendship started.”

The Nashville news media ultimately got hold of the feel-good story, and it snowballed. The two now do speaking tours. A book, “The Awakening of HK Derryberry,” hit bookshelves last fall.

Bradford noted all the proceeds of the book go into a special trust fund for Derryberry’s future care. “The doctors said he could have a normal life,” he added.

Derryberry, at the age of 21, graduated in May 2013 from the Tennessee School for the Blind with a high school diploma. His message to others is he’s not going to allow his physical disabilities to become a permanent handicap or excuse. He rides horses and is a snow skier.

Derryberry and Bradford have made more than 100 appearances and spoken to more than 25,000 people since 2011, according to the chamber.

“We are honored to be in Kingsport,” Derryberry said at the event held at Shabby Allie’s on Shelby Street. “The Kingsport Chamber of Commerce is an outstanding organization. . We hope our presentation will be inspirational and motivational.”

He immediately started having fun with the audience. “The traffic out of Knoxville was bumper to bumper, and I was driving,” Derryberry joked.

He reminded people that God has given people the ability to do certain things well.

“In life, I always have been considered the underdog,” Derryberry pointed out. ” . I just turned 26 and I’m still kicking.”

___

Information from: Kingsport Times-News, https://www.timesnews.net

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