Tonja Glad vividly remembers the day she held the ultrasound of her third child 13 years ago.
She had just learned that her unborn son had spina bifida, a disorder that causes progressive muscle degeneration and weakness.
Glad didn’t hesitate for a second when she told the nurse at her obstetrician’s office in Salt Lake City that she wanted to take the ultrasound pictures home.
“She was so surprised that I wanted those photos, and so was everybody else in the office,” Glad, 35, tells PEOPLE. “After they told us the bad news about our son, they expected us to break down crying, like our lives were over. But we weren’t going to allow that to happen. Yes, our son would be different. But he was ours.”
Today, Camren Glad, 12, is an inspiration to everyone who meets him. But he’s not alone in his journey – his younger brother, Murray, 7, also has spina bifida.
Together, the brothers do everything from riding horses to fishing and skiing, propelled by a personal desire to enjoy full and productive lives.
“Since day one, we’ve always told them, ‘You can do anything,'” says the boys’ father, Dave Glad, 36, a Salt Lake County government worker and part-time musician. “They’re happy kids who can pretty much do anything they want to do except walk. Would they like to walk? Of course they would. But since they can’t, they know they have to make the most of what they’ve got.”
With his dad’s help, Camren, who will soon be starting the seventh grade, now writes a Super Wheelchair Adventures blog, chronicling new achievements reached by him and his younger brother.
“I don’t feel bad about having spina bifida – I like the way I am,” Camren tells PEOPLE. “We both like to get out and try to do anything we can. There’s still a lot that we can do.”
Murray, a second-grader, calls Camren his “best friend.”
The Glads, who also have two older sons, Austin, 19, and Keltin, 16, are delighted by their sons’ spirited way of finding the good in each day.
“After I found out that Camren had spina bifida, I found a quote by (figure skater) Scott Hamilton that pretty much sums up how we feel,” says Tonja, 35, a homemaker. “He said, ‘The only true disability in life is a bad attitude.’ We just remind the boys and ourselves of that daily.”
It is rare but not unheard of for two siblings to both have spina bifida, a condition that occurs when there is an incomplete closing of the backbone and membranes around the spinal cord while the baby is in the womb.
“It was harder, I think, when we learned that Murray had it,” Dave says, “because we knew by then the stressful procedures that he would have to go through, like his brother. They’ve each had more than 10 surgeries on their spines and their legs.”
Camren underwent a risky and complex surgery in March after his spine had become so curved that his rib cage was pressing on his pelvic bone.
“He was four inches taller after the surgery,” Dave says. “It had gotten to the point where his organs were all crushed together.”
Dr. Jacques D’Astous, the pediatric orthopedic surgeon who performed the 12-hour operation at Shriner’s Hospitals for Children in Salt Lake City, says that only one or two such surgeries are done at the hospital every year.
“It was so incredibly rewarding to see such a dramatic improvement resulting from a single front and back spine surgery,” D’Astous tells PEOPLE. “I’m honored to have played a role in helping Camren to sit up straight for the first time in years, and I look forward to hearing about his continued wheelchair adventures.”
“There are so many things that me and my brother want to try together,” says Camren, who recently went swimming inside a deep underground crater with his brother. “He teases me about girls, but I guess we’re pretty close.”
“We’re going through the same thing together,” adds Murray. “I would say that he’s my best friend.”