NEWBURYPORT — Jessica Brown is like most teenagers who attend Newburyport High School. She socializes with her friends, looks forward to the weekends and loves the show "So You Think You Can Dance?"
The 14-year-old enjoys surfing the Web and taking various online quizzes that are all the rage with girls her age, she tends to her Farmville crops with devotion, and she has a mad crush on one of the three Jonas Brothers.
The only difference between Jessica and other kids at NHS is the amount of work it takes her young body to work the keys on her computer keyboard and to do many other things that come easily to others her age.
When she was 3 years old, she and her mother were in a car accident that left Jessica paralyzed from the neck down, and since that day in September 1999, she has needed the 24/7 assistance of a tracheostomy and a ventilator to help her breathe, plus a lot of support from her mother and grandmother, as well as a number of school staff, to help her do what others take for granted.
It's not been an easy road, but her grandmother, Diane Carter, said there has been fortune smiling on her for all she has been able to accomplish despite the predictions of many who assessed her in the early days after the accident.
Yesterday, fortune smiled on her in spectacular fashion once again, when a prize patrol team from Pangea Media Co. arrived at Newburyport High to deliver to Jessica two tickets to see the Jonas Brothers in Los Angeles, coupled with two round-trip plane tickets to the event, four-nights' hotel accommodation, and $500 to spend on a new outfit for the occasion.
It was all thanks to one of those quizzes Jessica and other kids her age love to take on sites like Quibblo.com, or FanPrizes.com, which are run by Pangea. From a completely random drawing of the 33,000 people who wanted to win free tickets to the Jonas Brothers concert, Jessica's name was plucked from the proverbial hat and word was delivered to her family Wednesday that she would be heading west to see her favorite band.
A group of about 20 well-wishers assembled in Principal Michael Parent's office yesterday just to see Jessica's face when she learned of her good fortune. They included Vice Principal Tim McCarron, school counselors Den Wight and Christine Palmer, nursing staff, Bresnahan Principal Kristina Davis and Jessica's math teacher, Tina Cochran. As a cover for the happy occasion and to preserve the element of surprise, Jessica was told she had to come to Parent's office to ask permission to take a field trip to Nock Middle School to visit her teachers from last year.
"I think she's going to freak," said Cochran, as she and the others hid behind Parent's conference table for Jessica to arrive.
For the girl who is known to wear a signed T-shirt bearing the faces and names of Kevin, Joe and Nick, and tote a Jonas Brothers backpack and matching thermos, getting a gratis ride to L.A. to see the three brothers sing "Your Biggest Fan" was difficult to believe.
"Get out of town," said Jessica yesterday morning when presented with the tickets. "My heart is stopping now."
Jessica's mother, Courtney DeAlmeida, was having a hard time believing she won the trip as well.
"I still can't believe it," she said.
DeAlmeida said Jessica loves to go places, and in the past couple of weeks has been expressing that desire more than ever, asking to go see Tony Stuart race NASCAR or get away to some other destination.
"We can't afford to just get up and go," DeAlmeida told her.
But now she will get what she was hankering for. Never having been to California, Jessica plans to take along her grandmother Diane Carter, her main caretaker since the accident.
"We almost lost her a couple times," Carter said of Jessica's recent bout with a life-threatening infection caused by some metal rods inserted into her back to keep her back growing strong.
Jessica's 10-year-old wish was to spend her 11th birthday at Walt Disney World, so the folks at Children's Hospital in Boston arranged for the trip through the Make A Wish Foundation, she said.
"We stayed there and had Christmas Dinner with Mickey Mouse," Carter said.
Jessica recovered from the infection, endured an operation to remove the rods, then another to reinsert them.
Then the infection came back.
It's been a long road for the teen and for her family, with its highs and its lows. When asked what the high points have been in the past 11 years, Carter has no trouble defining what makes for a good day.
"The highs are having her and seeing her happy," Carter said. "She's just a happy kid. She has a great outlook on things."