Jeff Fredericks was not given good odds of living and his parents were told that if he did live, he would never walk or talk. But none of the people who predicted that outcome knew about Fredericks' indomitable spirit.
I had the privilege of meeting Fredericks recently after talking with his mother. Like all mothers, she was proud of his achievements — in his case — beyond what anyone expected. Fredericks was diagnosed with Maple Syrup Urine Disease (MSUD), but not until he was 16 months old. He could have died by then and did suffer brain and neurological damage. At his birth, in 1975, there were no routine tests for his disease.
MSUD is a metabolism disorder caused by a gene defect in which the body cannot break down certain parts of proteins. The urine in persons with the disease has a characteristic maple syrup scent. In the most severe form, MSUD can damage the brain during times of physical stress such as infection, fever, or not eating for a long time, according to the National Institutes of Health.
When the condition is diagnosed and during flare-ups, treatment involves eating a protein-free diet. Long-term treatment involves a special diet of a man-made infant formula that persons with MSUD must remain on for life.
In Pennsylvania and many other states, newborns now are screened for MSUD.
Fredericks received a great education in State College, according to his mother, especially in Teri Lindner’s class in high school. As a part of Lindner’s class, Fredericks traveled to Arizona and contributed to his teacher’s “Teacher of the Year Award” in 2000.The Fredericks family helped start a program at State College Area High School that allows students with disabilities to learn real life skills by staying in an apartment while attending school. Fredericks was with his grandfather when he suffered a fatal attack and from skills learned in a Life Link apartment, Fredericks attempted to save him and forged a plan to bring help.
When not working at McDonalds, Fredericks volunteers at PAWS, St. Vincent DePaul and is on the property committee at his church. His “Coins for Cooling” project has brought over $5,000 toward installation of air conditioning in the church.
Known as the unofficial mayor of his neighborhood, he has helped many homeowners by watching their property and caring for their animals when they are away. His attention to detail made it possible get curbs in the neighborhood repaired. Fredericks showed photos he shot of crumbling curbs to the township manager.
He also has a keen interest in building construction and knows a lot about heat pumps, renovation and real estate. He has been instrumental in correcting some wet basements by remembering how things were done in the initial building stages and pointing out drainage problem areas.
This remarkable guy lives a full life and gives back to his community every day. He has a great sense of humor and a friendly smile. He lives with his parents, but would like to live on his own some day.
One of the special perks of writing is the opportunity to meet interesting and valuable members of Centre County.
Folks like Jeff Fredericks.