A certain amount of crying is expected with a newborn baby, but Melodie Bearden’s daughter Abbey was crying too much. “At home, she was a pretty good baby, but anytime we were outside she would scream uncontrollably, and nothing we did helped,” the 35-year-old mom remembers. The busy pace of caring for Abbey and her older sister Jude helped Melodie to ignore the nagging feeling that something was wrong, but when Abbey’s eyes began to shake uncontrollably at three months old, she could no longer ignore the obvious. She rushed off to the doctor’s office with a pit in her stomach and her screaming baby in the backseat. In the tiny exam room, the whispers and worried faces of an army of doctors and nurses confirmed that something was very wrong. With a grave face, the doctor listed the possible life threatening diagnoses, while Melodie sank helplessly in a chair in the corner. “I placed Abbey in the doctor’s arms and begged that he please just make it stop.”
A whirlwind of tests and specialists erupted for Abbey over the next seven days, and along with each test was the possibility that Abbey may only have days or weeks to live. The final diagnosis was congenital achromatopsia, a rare genetic vision disorder characterized by a lack of cone cells in the eye. Practically speaking, Abbey could only see up to five feet away, and would be colorblind and extremely light sensitive.
Relieved that the disorder was neither life threatening or degenerative, the Beardens began to learn how to adapt to the diagnosis. “The doctor gave us a list as long as a football field of all the things that she would never be able to do.” Confronting that list and adjusting the expectations for her daughter was trying for Melodie. “There was definitely a period of deep depression. We were a family who loved outdoor activities and sports, and so many of those things were now off limits.” Just 12 months after Abbey’s diagnosis, the Beardens added son Jordan to their family. Immediately, they recognized that he had the same symptoms as Abbey. Shortly after birth, he was also diagnosed with congenital achromatopsia.
With three young children and necessary adaptations for two special needs kids, Melodie often felt overwhelmed. “I finally came to a point where I had to accept that my children were not broken, and we were all going to need to find a way to make their lives as full as possible.” With a renewed attitude that nothing was off limits for her kids, the family began to search for activities that they could enjoy together. Dad, Anthony, had long been a vintage Lego collector, and with tons of the colorful bricks around the house, they found building was ideal for the kids’ low vision limitations. “Not only can they easily control the bricks to build what they want, but it helps them to hone their limited color vision and improve their dexterity,” Bearden explains.
As the kids reached school age, Melodie hoped that she would be less needed at home, and she re-entered the workforce full time as a financial analyst in Dallas. In reality, advocating for adaptations for the kids at school and helping them to complete their homework at night was more than a full-time job and the stress was straining the family. Knowing that they needed to pay their bills in a way that worked for their lifestyle, the Beardens began looking for a more creative form of employment. The ever-expanding collection of Legos at home served as an inspiration that grew into a business plan. “I knew that Legos were in high demand and that we could take that demand and create a business that would work for our family.”
Minifigs, Bricks and More, a unique Lego-themed store in Denton, was born from that inspiration in 2012. Unlike the typical retail Lego model, the Bearden’s store features hard to find and discontinued sets, as well as vintage collectibles. “We have a sort of GameStop model here. You can buy, sell and trade Legos, either by the set or by the pound.”
The opening of the store completely changed the dynamic of the Bearden family for the better. “My job now allows me the flexibility to be at school, so I can help with the adaptations the kids need or take off work to go on field trips that would be impossible otherwise.” Melodie also credits the family store with preparing her kids for challenges they will face in the future. “Not every form of employment is going to be achievable, but by our example, I hope they are learning to think out of the box and create a job that works for them,” she explains. In the meantime, the kids are happy to have more time with their family and unlimited access to piles of Legos. “They think they are in Lego heaven,” adds Bearden.
Published December 2013