CONCORD, NC (WBTV) - Brooke Haire is a 6-year-old princess in Kannapolis.
Her story will grip you. Her mother told it beautifully in a long, loving, well-crafted email. I only hope I can summarize with half as much heart.
Brooke, she says, is a 1st grader at W M Irvin Elementary in Concord who everyday continues to fight back from a car accident that almost killed her. It did kill her younger sister, 8-month-old Aubrey.
"I've probably started this email twenty times," mom Cristen wrote. "I wanted to tell you how amazing Brooke and Aubrey's lives were before October 13th, 2004 and the journey we've been on since that day. Our lives are now different. That can be hard for some people to understand. But I fully believe the more facts people know, the less they fear. I'd love if you could write about my daughter."
The life Cristen and her husband Dusty knew was wiped away in a fast instant two years ago. A car going 50-mph T-boned Cristen's car in the middle of the Moose Road and China Grove Road intersection in Kannapolis.
Cristen was driving. Her two girls were in back.
Short of some seatbelt injuries, Cristen was fine. She turned around and saw baby Aubrey. She thought she was okay, despite being on the side where the impact took place.
"She showed no outward signs of trauma," Cristen wrote. "She looked at me with her big blue eyes before laying her head to the side and going to what turned out to be her forever sleep."
Aubrey had severe traumatic brain injury. She never woke up. She later died in her mother's arms at Levine Children's Hospital.
"I wanted to hold her so the PICU nurse brought her out of the crib to get in bed with me," Cristen said. "I think that's when she felt safe. That's when she let go."
Meantime, in those moments right after the wreck, it was Brooke's visible injuries that scared Cristen most.
"Brookie's skin was jaundice," she said. "She wasn't breathing. Her eyes were opened and glassed over. First responders intubated Brooke at the scene and had they not acted quickly, we could've lost both our girls. I'm eternally grateful for their thinking."
Two days later Cristen and Dusty were told Brooke had a spinal cord injury at C4 level. Doctors said she would be physically disabled, never cognitively move past a 4-year-old level, need tube feeds forever and also be on a ventilator for life.
"We were angry and confused," Cristen says. "She flat-lined several times. We put our faith in God though and when asked about signing a DNR, said no."
Fast forward two months. Against all odds… against every single odd… Brooke was well enough to take home.
"Thank goodness for the nursing staff!!" Cristen said. "Especially the rehab floor. They taught us how to do trach changes, vent maintenance, how to use a g-tube, how to suction, cath, administer vital meds and work on breathing treatments. The list was long. We learned it all. We became her full-time caregivers."
All that was almost two years ago. Since then, Brooke has made even greater strides. She remains on the vent, but no longer needs tube feeds. She has no cognitive delays and started kindergarten last year, finishing at the top reading level for her grade. She attended summer camp where she went horseback riding and has even gone back to dance classes.
I mean, she is dancing. This child is now dancing. Take that in for a minute.
(SIDEBAR: Brooke's instructor, Chasity Chapman, offers free special needs dance classes on Saturday mornings at her new studio called Revolution Dance Company in Concord.)
Every week Brooke still goes with her mom for physical and occupational therapy. She can work on the iPad or on the computer using a head mouse. I'll post a picture she drew using the head mouse below in comments.
"We've have ups and downs," Cristen said. "Our church has become our second family but we've had real struggles finding quality dependable nursing in homecare. My husband has gone back to work and I'm in charge of medical care. Some days I feel lost. Like it's all new. Other days I want to be a voice for others in similar situations."
You are, Cristen. You are being that voice. Right now. Guaranteed someone reading this understands pieces of the roller coaster you're saying and appreciates the information and candor. (If you are that person, connect with Cristen here >> https://www.facebook.com/cristenhaire/.)
Near the end of Cristen's heartfelt email she added another twist:
There's now another little girl.
There's now another little girl!
Brooke once again has a baby sister. Her name is Lexie. She's 10 months old.
I'll put a picture below in comments that says it all.
Thank you for being so open, Cristen. Thank you for sharing your princess with us.