Story by
Gabrielle Fimbress
Citizen Staff Writer

May 20, 1999

Support groups

The FAS Community Resource Center offers monthly support groups for families living with fetal alcohol syndrome.
The next meeting will be held from 9 a.m. to noon June 4 at the Arizona Training Program, 4910 E. 29th St., in the blue building.
Meetings are free and open to the public. Baby-sitting will be provided. For information, call 520 - 296 - 9172 .

Southern Arizona Online, a publication of the Tucson Citizen

Triumphant march

Born with brain and heart damage from his birth mother's drinking, John Kellerman beats the odds to earn a high school diploma.

John Kellerman moves his tassel from the right to the left, symbolizing his graduation yesterday from Howenstine Special Education High School.
Tanith L. Balaban/Tucson Citizen

Twenty-one years ago, a tiny, badly damaged baby boy came into the world with no one to love him.
Yesterday, that same young man, clad in brilliant green and walking tall, scaled the steps at his high school and took his place among his fellow graduates.
John Kellerman did it.
But he didn't do it alone.
Cheering loudly for the 21-year-old victim of fetal alcohol syndrome were his adoptive parents, Teresa and Bob Kellerman; his brother, Chris; teachers; and friends.
"John's going to really miss it here," Teresa Kellerman said after the emotional graduation ceremony at Howenstine Special Education High School, 555 S. Tucson Blvd.
"He was a star here."
John was featured in 1997 in a Tucson Citizen series on fetal alcohol syndrome. FAS, the leading cause of mental retardation, is caused when pregnant women drink alcohol.
John's mother drank throughout her pregnancy, and was drunk the day she gave birth at a Denver hospital. When the woman's water broke, the smell of alcohol permeated the room.
It was immediately clear the 2 1/2-pound baby had birth defects, including brain damage and heart problems. When his mother was told he had problems, she left and never returned.
John was adopted by Teresa and Bob Kellerman, who divorced in 1984. While the years have brought enormous challenges for the family, John's life is full of successes.
John was one of seven young men and women receiving diplomas yesterday. The parents of another Howenstine student, Charles Joiner, accepted his diploma. Charlie died March 13 at the age of 21, of complications from cerebral palsy.
The other students - Harry Burke, Lindsy Friel, Jessica Galaz, Devon Maxey, Ruth Peña and Deric Vinson - were encouraged to overcome any self-doubt.
"We can feel confident, through our high expectations, they will succeed," principal Randy Boyer told the audience of friends and family members.
Jim Malbon, who teaches industrial arts at Howenstine, spoke of John's accomplishments and love of power tools.
"We're going to miss John," Malbon said. "I've come to love John and appreciate his talents."
John is unusual in that most people with FAS do not graduate from high school.
"Most drop out or are expelled," said Teresa Kellerman, founder of the FAS Community Resource Center here.
Kellerman offers support and information to families whose lives are touched by FAS. She shares the knowledge she has gained in the 21 years spent raising John.
"I can't tell you how many families call me up with all the troubles they are having," Kellerman said.
And few resources are available to help them, she added.
People with FAS are far more likely to suffer mental health problems, school disruptions and trouble with the law.
Brain damage caused by exposure to alcohol in the womb results in a lack of judgment, and half of all people with FAS end up being confined, either in prison or in other institutions. It is believed that a high number of homeless people may have FAS.
But John has flourished, thanks to support from his family. His mother is constantly in his corner, taking on whatever battles need to be fought.
"John will always need supervision to succeed," Kellerman said. "My definition of success is staying out of jail.
"But John far exceeds that," she continued. "He's happy. He's got good self-esteem. He has goals for his future."
John works full-time at Desert Survivors, where he processes materials to be recycled and does yard work.
He lives at home with his mother and 18-year-old brother, Chris, who recently completed his first year at the University of Arizona.
"Chris is one of the reasons John has done so well," Kellerman said. "He's a wonderful role model and ego-booster."
The brothers spend many evenings together, with John playing drums and Chris playing guitar or piano.
But John isn't without his fears, Kellerman said.
"He worries about what's going to happen to him when I'm not around to take care of him," she said. "That's a fear that haunts him and me."
Yesterday, however, there was nothing but joy for the Kellermans.
"It was great being on stage," John said, as friends offered him hugs and good wishes.

Learn more about the Kellerman family
Visit the FAS Community Resource Center
Learn more about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome