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Toddler who captured Kansas Citians’ hearts in 2000 will soon go to college

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MERRIAM, Kan. -- For more than thirty years, I've had the privilege of working for FOX 4 viewers and sharing thousands of stories. For the final one, it seemed appropriate to check back with someone we met in 2000. You may remember Brenden Hill.

"Brenden Hill is one of those little guys who immediately captures your eye," I said at the start of our first story on Brenden.

The toddler also captured Kansas Citians' hearts. 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.

Our 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. FOX 4 was there in San Antonio as Brenden's parents said goodbye to him before surgery, and we were there to report that he made it through.

This week, sixteen years later, we paid a visit to the Hills. 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 four feet, six inches tall and weighs 70 pounds 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 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," Brenden said.

For a young man who's already come a long way.