By John Rice
When Angela Brown was pregnant with her second baby, she had an ultrasound in her 19th week. Angela and her husband, Steve, were told the ultrasound showed a hole in the spinal cord, a condition known as spina bifida. Doctors told them they had to decide in two weeks whether to continue the pregnancy.
This was not even a question for the Browns. "I would never allow anything to take my daughter," Steve said. Brooke was born on Nov. 6, 2012 with spina bifida. In her first 36 hours, she underwent three surgeries. Her spinal cord was repaired along with damage to the tendons in her feet. However, Brooke did not have much function in the lower half of her body.
Today, Brooke Brown, is a 4-year-old with blue eyes and a jolly disposition. "Brooke will talk your ear off," Steve said, "She is a spirited little girl." She attends a regular Kindergarten class at Garfield School and loves sports, especially baseball. "She can swing a bat pretty good," said Steve. "She went to a Cubs game this year." Brooke is also a big Blackhawks fan and her latest dream is to play hockey, like her big brother, Braxton.
However, the adaptive skate sled she needs is pricey. They cost between $1,500 and $2,000. So the Browns are hosting a fundraiser at Skrine Chops, on Feb. 18, to raise money for skate sleds for disabled kids like Brooke. The money will go to Thumbuddy Special an organization that purchases adaptive bikes, wheelchairs, strollers and, yes, skate sleds.
These sleds have two blades and a long handle for pushing the skater. Brooke will be wearing a helmet and holding a hockey stick when she goes to his hockey practices, just like Braxton does. Braxton is not only a pacesetter for his sister, he plays "gymnastics" with her, which helps strengthen her muscles. The key to Brooke's recovery from spina bifida is to strengthen her core muscles.
Angela explained that Brooke has to use different muscles to compensate for her weak areas. Sitting, crawling and pulling herself up are hard work for her, but she's ready to progress to a new level. Besides riding a four-wheeler, she has a body cast she calls her "robot" that allows her to walk with crutches. But Brooke isn't stopping there. She can also walk with a walker and Steve predicts she will someday be walking independently.
"Her surgeon is so amazed at Brooke's mobility," said Steve. To achieve this mobility, Brooke and her family take her to Aspire, in Westchester, to develop and strengthen her muscles. Aspire also sends a physical therapist to Brooke's daycare once a week. Aspire is dedicated to helping people with disabilities. It has 1,400 volunteers and they raise money, in part, by selling Coffeeworks coffee, which goes by the tag line: "Incredible coffee that does incredible good." There's a photo of Steve and Brooke on one of the bags.
Brooke works hard at her physical therapy. "We do everything to help her get stronger," Steve said, "This will help all of her bodily functions, like sleep and digestion. Her progress has been amazing." Equally amazing is how the fundraiser came together. Steve used to work with Steve Skrine and his sister, Debbie, once worked there as a bartender.
Debbie put together the whole event. It helped that she's dating a member of the Blue Lincolns, the band headlining the event. She is also the person who got in contact with Thumbuddy Special. Supporters can share their love for disabled kids by paying the $20 cover charge and taking a shot at the raffle prizes. Food will be served from 7:30 to 8:30. The Blue Lincolns and their special guests will play from 8:30-11:30, with a short break for the raffle drawing.
Steve is excited about getting a skate sled for Brooke. The last time she rode one, the smile beneath her mask was priceless.