Not expected to make first birthday, Huntington woman beats odds again to make it to 50th year

Melissa “Myndi” Greer, who wasn’t expected to live through her first year, recently celebrated her 50th birthday.
Melissa “Myndi” Greer, who wasn’t expected to live through her first year, recently celebrated her 50th birthday. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Originally published July 3, 2017.

Melissa “Myndi” Greer threw a party on June 25 to celebrate her 50th birthday.

She was also celebrating beating the odds — again.

Doctors told her parents that their newborn wouldn’t see her first birthday; then they told her she wouldn’t live through her teenage years; then they said she’d be lucky to see 30.

“Now, the doctor says, ‘You’re going to live as long as you want,’” she says.

Greer has the most severe form of osteogenesis imperfecta — brittle bones that break easily, and frequently.

In Greer’s case, those breaks have numbered between 500 and 600, generating a pile of medical records so fat that her doctors have lost track of the exact number of broken bones. She’s a little disappointed by that.

“But I might be in the Guinness Book of World Records,” she says with a laugh. “Let’s find out.”

She remembers the time she asked her doctor if she’d get any taller. He answered in the negative.

“So I went home and — prayer, will, I don’t know what — I grew an inch and a half in a month,” she says.

Greer and her family lived in Huntington for the first year of her life; she’s been back in town for about five years now, living at the LaFontaine Center — where both her mother, Beth Huffman, and her uncle worked as bartenders back in the days of the Hotel LaFontaine — for about five years.

In the intervening years, she’s earned an associate’s degree, worked in marketing and retail, served as a foster parent, met presidents and won a pageant crown. The Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation says that most babies born with the most severe form of the disease die at or shortly after birth; they don’t rack up 50 years of accomplishments.

“I was three days old when I was diagnosed,” she says. “The doctors told my parents if they wanted to take me home, they could, but not to get too attached because I wouldn’t live a year.”

Her parents had no warning prior to her birth of what was ahead.

“When I was born, you just kind of got what you got,” she says.

Her parents handled her carefully — “My mom says changing my diapers was kind of hard,” she says — but Greer doesn’t remember feeling particularly coddled.

“Their attitude was, ‘If there’s a problem, you’re going to have to figure out how to get around it,’” she says.

She didn’t have a wheelchair at home until she was 13. She crawled to get around the house; she climbed to get where she wanted. She spent kindergarten and the elementary grades at a school for people with disabilities, then was mainstreamed to a regular junior high school.

She graduated from Homestead High School, where she found acceptance and, on occasion, was defended by the football team against insults from students from other schools.

The only problems at Homestead, she says, came in the area of accessibility — no bathroom she could use, only one entrance she could use and no bus that could accommodate her wheelchair. The school did buy a bus she could board, she says.

“But I never had any problem with anybody picking on me,” Greer says.

She moved on to Vincennes University — until a boy entered the picture.

“I thought I was in love, like most stupid girls,” she says.

She quit college and moved in with her boyfriend back in Fort Wayne, but the relationship fell apart.

Greer went back to school — this time at Ivy Tech — and earned an associate’s degree in psychology.

She started working in marketing, first as a telemarketer, then selling at shows and finally as northern Indiana marketing director for Faerber Bee Window.

Then, she says, “I got bored” and took a job at Walmart, working in public relations and filling in in other positions.

She drove her own car, selling it only recently. She performed with the University of Saint Francis-based Jesters theatrical group, meeting presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Gerald Ford in the process. She’s worked on the Indiana Partners in Policymaking group with then-Gov. Mike Pence; and was named Miss Wheelchair Indiana.

Injuries suffered in a car accident about 10 years ago — hundreds of broken bones, along with damage to her vision and hearing — put an end to her working days.

“But if anybody wants to hire me, I’m open to it,” she says. “I can’t think of anything you can do that I can’t do.”

She says she takes the same care “as anybody else” in her daily activities.

“Not to fall, not to try to be a daredevil,” she says.

Pointing to the steps in the LaFontaine Center lobby, she says, “Falling down those steps would not be a good thing.”

Kids with osteogenesis imperfecta are sometimes called “children of glass,” Greer says, because that’s how easily their bones break.

Greer says she hasn’t met many people who share her disease, one of the few being a woman in her 80s who died about 10 years ago.

“Before that, I only knew of one other girl and she passed away when we were in elementary school,” Greer says.

The various forms of osteogenesis imperfecta affects between 20,000 and 50,000 people in the United States, the Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation says.

Greer attended her first osteogenesis imperfecta conference just a few years ago, meeting more people with the same disability and learning about a bone marrow transplant that is now being used to increase the bone strength of children with the disease.

“It’s kind of neat to know no kid will have to go through that,” she says. “It’s about 90 percent more curable now than when I was born.”