Meeting Mia: The Story Behind A Remarkable Recovery From Trauma

George Osterkamp is the CBS News producer in the San Francisco Bureau. He worked with Correspondent John Blackstone on this story for the CBS Evening News.
We discovered Mia through the therapist who had been helping the little girl overcome the terrible abuse she suffered when she was less than a year old. Dr. Lenore Terr, a San Francisco psychiatrist whose specialty is childhood trauma, had written a book about Mia called "Magical Moments of Change: How Psychotherapy Turns Kids Around."

Dr. Terr was the host when I met Mia and her mother, Sharon Behrens, nearly a year ago at the doctor's office. At that meeting the women and Mia – then 18 – all seemed so self-assured and warm, it was hard to imagine the struggles the three had gone through to save Mia from the lasting damage early trauma often causes.

"She growled. She spit. She hissed. She screamed," Terr recalled of Mia's early days starting treatment. Terr knew the odds were against Mia, but the doctor sensed an intelligence in the frightened little girl – and in that, she found hope.

Using dolls and a tea service, Terr worked with Mia for years to overcome her fear of others.

"We made reality out of the tea party," Terr said. "And it was no more a game. It was reality."

Mia's therapy was both mental and physical. She needed gynecologic reconstructive surgery. And she needed a whole team supporting her, including kindergarten teacher, Calvie Clement, who saw something special in the child who had been so badly treated by her birth parents.

"There was a great kid in there," Clement told me. "They couldn't take that away. They could take everything else away – her innocence, the joy, the wonder, but there was still that kernel of goodness that lived in her."

Bob Behrens credits three women for Mia's recovery: wife Sharon for her commitment, Dr. Terr for her insights – and Mia for her survival instincts.

"It wasn't easy," says Mia, "learning how to do everything to the point where I am now today, where it's like normal like everyone else."

Mia began telling her story publicly hoping she might save other children who are considered so badly traumatized they cannot recover.

Terr says Mia is one of the most unusual cases she has treated in a long career. There were various daunting moments which were quite challenging, she says, "but I never had the sense it wouldn't work."

Mia is now starting college with plans to be a kindergarten teacher – determined to help other kids growing up. And no one knows better than Mia just how important those early years can be.