Brooke’s Round Up – “The Next Chapter” Part 4

Brooke’s Journey: It Takes A Village

Medical Milestones and Community Support

Readers, welcome to post 4 of our road trip along Brooke’s life (and in this post we will be sharing an actual road-trip on which she embarked!). Our last post left off when Brooke was approximately18 months old. At that point she had finally gotten some much needed medical assistance via a feeding tube which stopped her constant bouts with aspirating pneumonia. This device also enabled her to receive the necessary nutrition to thrive as a growing child. Additionally, in the last article we touched upon certain “angels” that helped Brooke and her family get through those very challenging first months. However, it would be remiss to not mention the continued support that the greater community provided in the following years. That is the purpose of this chapter.

Everyone knows the phrase “”It takes a village to raise a child”, but do we really contemplate what that means? Looking back, although there were still numerous hospital stays, this next period of her life, from eighteen months to four years old, Brooke and her family had some of the healthiest and happiest times. Writing now in 2024, the past few years we have seen the national “Lottery” go into the billions of dollars. Introspectively, the lottery isn’t popular because most people they think they are going to win. Rather, it represents the possibility for easier days. From the moment someone buys that ticket, they and they hold it in their hands, dreams of possibility, comfort and luxury abound. They may imagine how it would change their life and how things could be easier. Essentially, a lottery ticket is a a tax on hope.

From 2010 to 2013, while the economy was in chaos and people had so little to share; hope was a scarce commodity. Yet Brooklyn, who was so limited in her mobility, managed to wrangle many of the local community members in shared goals and optimism. Metaphorically, she became something to root for, something to back, something to bet on. A theme emerged, “If she can make it—so can we.” As Brooke overcame obstacles, so too did the village around her. As her mom says, “The generosity of strangers was unexpected and life-changing.”

Nothin’ Left To Give

Currently, Alicia and Jason been volunteering with the Youth group all week in a lock-in and character building event. Staying onsite in the church rec-hall, coordinating meals for 25 hungry youths three times a day and assisting in the high-energy events at local ranches, Alicia has had an exhausting week. In a moment when she could finally be interviewed, we caught her inside the barn “office” giving first aid to another volunteer. When the crisis subsided and she called her parents to bring an extra set of crutches that they just happened to have in stock, she had a moment to talk about this article. Sun-burnt and with her curly hair tied up in a messy bun she was asked ‘where do you want to begin?’. She said, “Before we talk about how many awesome things the community did for us—I just want to share one particular story. One time when she was about two we had to take Brooke back to the hospital emergency room. Jason and I honest to goodness had five dollars in our bank account. We had already dropped Nathan off at my parents who were doing such an amazing job helping him. When we got to the hospital, at point we didn’t even think about how we would be able stay there however long she was admitted—I just knew that Brooke had to go. Sixteen hours later, the next afternoon we went to the cafeteria and split a sandwich—with that last $5. I’ll never forget that sandwich because we were so just young and overwhelmed. It was like our ‘last meal’ because we didn’t know how we would eat after that.”

A remarkable spirit of generosity happened though as Alicia recalls, “We had nothing after that sandwich. One more purchase and we would have been in the negative on our bank account. My Dad came that night to the hospital with an envelope. He had casually mentioned what happened to someone who he worked with—I know this man, Don, and I know he didn’t have enough to get by even on his own at the time, but he gave us $300 to buy groceries and meals at the cafeteria. I mean, we were literally on OUR last dollars, and he gave us HIS last dollars just to get by. God used that man to help us when we needed it the most. I just tear up thinkin’ about that. After that as well, the church gave us food and also took up ‘love offerings’ for us multiple times. Everyone was so generous.” That moment of generosity is when the young couple first really realized the power of community..

Movin’ and Shakin’

As Brooke grew, the challenges associated with her developing cerebral palsy became more pronounced. To address these challenges, Brooke underwent continual physical and occupational therapies designed to enhance her mobility and overall quality of life. However, these therapies came with significant financial burdens. The cost of essential medical equipment, such as braces and helmets, added to the Cockerline family’s mounting medical expenses. Each piece of equipment, though critical to Brooke’s development, represented a substantial financial strain on the family. Alicia recalls, “Brooke had always been unable to hold up her own head, and so it developed many of her neck muscles in the wrong orientation. Our first major piece of therapy equipment she needed was a helmet for her that would align her head in the correct position.” Amid this challenge, the church Jason and Alicia were attending started talking about how they could help and soon the first fundraiser for Brooke developed with the goal of alleviating some of the financial pressure on the young family. Friends, neighbors, and even strangers came together at the event to raise money for Brooke. Speaking fondly of the event Alicia says, “The Hulls Grove North Church put on a fundraiser and the Christian band “Three 16” even came to play for free.” That fundraiser raised everything that the we needed to outfit Brooke in the highest quality therapy gear. The community’s unwavering support became a beacon of hope for the Cockerline family. That community initiative successfully raised enough funds to provide Brooke with high-quality therapy gear beyond her helmet, which significantly enhancing her therapy sessions and overall progression in terms of mobility.

However, the collective efforts of the community at that event extended beyond financial support. On the family front, Jason was attending church one Sunday when a fellow parishioner said there was a spot open at the company for which he worked. This gentleman had seen the impact of the fundraiser for Brooke and the tenacity of the young parents. Recalling this gentleman’s impact on their life, Alicia says,“He said something along the lines of ‘I have a great opportunity for you, but you’ll have to work your way up on your own.’ This was definitely a step down for Jason but jobs were so hard to come by at that time. He had to learn a whole new trade and industry, but all I can say is that it has been amazing. He started with them in 2010 and has worked himself up from a new hire to a leader in that time.. Also, Jason was able to get health insurance which was such a relief, but only for himself. And keep in mind we had TWO children. As strong and adventurous as you see Nathan today, well he was just like that as a toddler. So while Brooke was on Medicaid, I always worried about how we would cover Nathan’s bills if he fell or broke something. Nathan and I went almost 10 years without insurance—I was praying a lot for our safety among all the other things!” This past weekend Jason and Alicia watched Nathan wrestle a cow and ride his first bull. While he only lasted only about 1.5 seconds on the bull out of the gate, they had no fear if he needed a trip to the hospital. Times have changed.

After that hospital visit, the outpouring of generosity and encouragement spread their way increasingly. Acts of kindness from community members played an critical role in the family’s journey. Eventually Brooke and her fight became not a stand-alone battle but a community battle. Gestures of solidarity, whether big or small, reinforced the family’s resilience and provided them with the strength to navigate each challenge that Brooke faced and to finally ask for help when they needed it.

Stem Cell Therapy: A Cause That United The Community

Brooke’s journey took a pivotal turn when the possibility of experimental stem cell therapy was introduced. This experimental therapy offered a glimmer of hope for Brooke. However, the considerable cost posed a significant barrier since the therapy was not covered by insurance and each treatment would cost $3600. Once again, this financial hurdle didn’t deter the Lincolnton, NC community, whose unwavering support had already demonstrated invaluable generosity. At the time when this new therapy became available, Alicia, worked part-time at a local gas station as a second job. She had previously worked there in high school so they owners knew and trusted her. Their trust and love in Alicia was so great that they allowed her to bring Brooke to work. Alicia recalls, “I’m telling you, they said you bring your baby girl here and if anyone has a problem, well they’ll just have to wait. I just felt the most honest to goodness love and support from them.” This unique arrangement enabled residents to form a personal connection with Brooke, deepening their connection to Brooke and her family’s struggles.

When Alicia and Jason began sharing what they had been told about the benefits of stem cell therapy for Brooke, the owners of the gas station and all their “regulars” mobilized swiftly, organizing a fundraiser to cover the expenses. Their efforts culminated in an impressive $12,000, enough to facilitate the family’s travel to Arizona, where the therapy would be administered. The first journey was fraught with challenges; the trip by plane proved particularly stressful. Alicia recalls, “Now Jason was an ‘Army Brat’ so he was used to flying all over the world, but this wasn’t just Brooke’s first plane ride—it was also mine! I remember my parents dropping us off at the airport—I was so sad to leave Nathan but knew it would be better for him to stay at home with his grandparents and nephews instead of being stuck in a hospital. When we were dropped off my dad did such a great thing he tipped the parking attendant $20 to help us with our luggage—little did we know he just brought it inside the door and that was it! Poor Jason was trying to push Brooke in her stroller, carry her spare oxygen tanks and diapers and all the extra stuff!”

After a rough arrival, the first stem cell therapy was a huge success. When they arrived home a week later, everyone noticed a change in Brooke. “She had the clearest eyes I had ever seen on her—it was as if she was looking around for the first time. She could also sit up on her own for about 30 seconds which had never happened before. Very soon after that she actually started making “steps” in her gait-trainer device. It was remarkable.”

The difficult first flight prompted the family to opt for a car drive road trip on subsequent visits. The escapade to the second treatment turned into a memorable adventure, complete with a visit to the infamous Big Texan Steak House and The Grand Canyon. Despite those two great icons however, one stop was the most memorable. “Well we’re from Carolina so we wear our flip flops year round. We thought ‘oh we’re headed to Arizona it is like the desert, right? Well we got up to Flagstaff and it is high in the mountains. I had to get out of the car in my shorts and flip flops at 29 degrees with inches of snow.” That was one example that a midst the ongoing medical struggles there was always something to laugh about.

The stem cell treatments were ultimately a success. However at the age of four, shortly after her second treatment, Brooke’s seizures had intensified. Remarkably, and to the surprise of her doctors, she did not suffer additional brain damage. The therapy likely played a crucial role in mitigating what could have been a devastating progression of her condition.

Win Some and Lose Some, But Keep On Trying

Throughout this period, the steadfast support from the Lincolnton community remained a cornerstone of Brooke’s journey. Their collective efforts not only financially funded Brooke’s treatments but also provided emotional and moral support to her family. Perhaps the greatest lesson learned from that time frame was the impact of a united community in the face of adversity. Maintaining hope in dark times not only inspires an individual’s life but the community as a whole. Let us not forget that when faced with medical, emotional and financial adversities, acts of kindness and generosity truly make a tangible difference in the lives of those facing challenges.

Everyone loves an underdog because their success reminds us of the indelible spirit of humanity. We like to view ourselves as not only fighters, but survivors. This week in America we will celebrate Independence Day, The Fourth of July. We will light up fireworks and sing The Star Spangled Banner in honor of a group of rebels that took on and prevailed against the mightiest army in the world at the time. In a similar note, at Brooke’s Round Up, by far the most popular attraction for the Special Needs children is the live-action superheroes and princesses from popular movies. The incredible Youth Group of Blazin’ Trails Cowboy Church spend hours donning on costumes and makeup to imitate these “heroes” and then subsequently take on the superhero roles to bring the fantasy alive for the attendees. On the surface, these characters may seem popular for their beauty and physique. However if we look deeper and ask why is this event so popular for Special Needs individuals we can recognize a greater meaning—their fictitious stories represent the triumph over the seemingly insurmountable.

Likewise, in that period of her life, Brooke was the underdog and the community found inspiration and hope by backing her. In a time when the country and its people were suffering so much economically, emotionally and spiritually—Brooke was the horse to bet on. Every milestone she achieved got the community over the finishing line and gave them something to rejoice in.

While all of our joy is in God, He also gave us the gift of fellowship. It’s a free gift. You don’t have to buy a ticket to win it—you just have to love your neighbor. So let’s support one another:

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

***There will be no post on Monday, July 8th due to the extended holiday weekend.  The next segment will be posted Monday July 15th.

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