[Note: for those of you looking for the website, you can now find Laurie and Brooke's creations at www.brookesangelwings.com.]
Grab a cup of coffee and some tissues and then whatever you do, please read this entire post…it could very well save a child’s life and that is no exaggeration by any stretch of the word. The words you are about to read (and the images you are about to see) are powerful, emotional, at times graphic, but above all, inspirational. I cry each time Laurie relays the details of this story to me. I cried trying to write this post. Even my husband couldn’t hold back his tears upon reading her words. I’m extremely proud of my friend for being so brave as to write it all out for you (and I think somewhat for herself) here.
Before you begin, some background:
Two years ago, I was going through my son’s folder from preschool when I stumbled across a slip of paper. It was an urgent call for prayers. A 3-year-old girl had suffered a life-threatening injury to her head when a dresser fell on top of her. The prognosis was uncertain and the preschool was asking for any help anyone could provide this family…groceries, meals, prayers…lots of prayers. I was dumbfounded. A dresser? Really? I mean I had always read those little warning tabs about strapping down furniture, but as I walked around my house that afternoon, I just could not even begin to fathom how a dresser could cause that kind of harm to a 3-year-old. It scared me. A lot. I quickly stuffed some money into an envelope and sent it to the family and then I ran to hug each of my three children, tightly.
And then eventually, I forgot all about it…
This fall, I took my daughter to her preschool to meet her new teacher. The teacher greeted us with a huge smile when we walked into the classroom and she exclaimed, “I’m so excited to have your daughter this year!!! And, oh, I’ve been meaning to thank you. You sent us something after the accident and I never got a chance to thank you.”
I was really confused, “What accident?”
“That’s my daughter, Brooke,” and she pointed to a little girl in the next room. “Remember…when the dresser fell?”
Brooke’s story, in Laurie’s words:
Not a single day goes by that I don’t think about our daughter’s accident. She’s ok and safe and beautiful, but I still think about how lucky we are that she came out on the other side….perfect. She could have died due to infection, had major brain damage, been blind, deaf or deformed. And she is so absolutely perfect. She has a tendency to fall down a lot, but we can deal with that. She is our little princess that should be wrapped in a bubble. It started at 9 months when she chipped a front tooth. I thought that was the end of the world. I remember calling my mother just balling. Then it happened…the day that would forever change my life and the way that I lived it.
It happened 3 days after Thanksgiving. It was a Saturday. Brooke and I had just taken a nap in our bedroom. We both woke up and crawled out of bed. She walked across the living room floor (my husband was in the recliner watching a football game) and continued into her brother’s room. I was following right behind her, but I stopped at the computer desk in between the living room and our son Bradley’s room and began to log in to the computer. As I was doing that I said, “Don’t go into your brother’s room.” He was playing at his friends, and he did not like his little sister to play with his toys. Before I could even type my password, I heard the crash.
It was really loud. I just remember looking into the doorway and seeing the bottom of the dresser, but not Brooke. I panicked when I realized she was underneath the dresser. I was only able to partially lift the dresser myself because I had just had a major back surgery. My effort had gotten the weight of the dresser off of her head, and I was hanging on with all my strength. I was screaming for my husband, Matt. He was there instantly and literally threw the dresser from her into the corner of Bradley’s room. I saw her reaction…she shuttered or jerked a little and then I saw the blood coming from her left ear.
I was afraid she was having a seizure of some sort. Around her eyes it was already puffing. Matt was shouting, “Brooke, baby, oh My God are you ok?” He had her in his arms…she was conscious. I was racing for the phone to call 911. I literally felt that I was viewing the accident from outside of my body. I could hear him saying, “No Brooke, no Brooke…you’re ok Brooke.”
I was trying to talk to the 911 operator. At first, she said I called the wrong number. Talk about panic. I said you have to help me this is major…she is hurt really bad. So, I guess she began connecting our call to the proper department. Meanwhile, she was telling me what to do and to not move her. Of course, your first reaction is to move your child into your arms…and Matt was already holding her. I was just frantic and so scared. I still to this day think did I do enough? I just watched as my husband was holding her…why did I not grab her into my arms? I would have never forgiven myself if we had lost her and I had not held her. She looked so fragile laying there in my husband’s arms. She was awake, but I knew she was not ok.
It seemed like no more than 2 minutes and the fire department was there. They began to work on her. Then the police arrived and then EMS. Matt was with her in the living room and the police were asking me what had happened in our son’s room. I was trying to tell them and breaking into tears. I wanted to just leave the bedroom and run to her and hold her. I felt like my heart was ripping from my chest. The police officer said, ”You need to focus and tell me what happened. You need to remain calm to help your child.” They said only one of us could ride in the ambulance. I don’t know how it was decided, but I did. I know had I drove, I would have wrecked on the way. The whole trip to Dell Children’s Hospital is a blur. I remember trying to call my Mom and my cell phone was dead. I just wanted to call my mom. I needed her at that very moment. The ambulance driver let me use his phone. I remember the ambulance driver saying, “I’m not going to lie to you, your child is very sick. This is really bad.”
When we got to the hospital there was a very nice, calm girl who intercepted me as they were taking Brooke in. I remember looking in the room and there must have been 20 different doctors. They cut her clothes off…I tried to say something and one of the doctors said, “ Mom, we will talk to you later.” I felt so hopeless and so scared. Each doctor was checking her for something. I wanted to just burst into the room…again, I felt like I was watching outside of my own body from outside the window.
Matt had arrived. I still don’t know how he made it so quickly; I just know I would have died trying to get myself there. Brooke had thrown up at that point. They were afraid her condition was getting worse, so they were going to get the cat scans done as quickly as possible. Matt was talking to the neurologist. I was trying to explain to family what had happened. Matt came into the room saying he had asked the doctor if we would get our baby girl back and the doctor had said he did not know….there was just no way to know. I remember him saying over and over again, “He does not know.”
I had to remove myself from the room. I was throwing up in the bathroom beside the family room. I felt like my life was draining out of me…it was such an intense fear. The thought of losing her just tore into my entire self….it was overwhelming. The guilt…why did we not have that dresser strapped to the wall? It was such a simple thing. We could lose our baby.
Brooke had tried to climb up her brother’s dresser to get a Barbie doll from the top. At least that was the explanation she had given us. We would not know that until much later when she was responding to our questions. We think the bottom drawer was already open. The dresser fell on top of mainly her head. Her body was actually not under the dresser. It was from the chest up that the dresser was covering. I don’t know if she tried jumping off in the process and somehow turned her body, but the entire force hit her in that one spot. Her head was turned to the side and we think the dresser knob crushed into the left ear area.
The dresser was from a reputable company–a really good brand–and no, it was not strapped to the wall. Something we have beat ourselves up for over and over. The night of the accident, I raced home to frantically grab us items and let the dogs out. I walked into the room. There was still blood on the floor. I walked up to that dresser and put my foot in the bottom of it. It tipped so easily…so easy. At that moment, in frustration I pushed at the dresser with all my might, as if I could transfer my pain to the source. I took my hands and hit it anger, until they were turning red and trembling with pain. I knew it was not the dresser’s fault but ours. That first night in intensive a doctor said to us, “You know, you could have strapped the dresser to the wall.” I remember looking at her and crumbling, “You know, you are so right. Why did we not do that?” Tears were freshly flowing and I think she realized we were human. She was right. A simple attachment of the dresser to the wall would have prevented what our family went through. We all know that we should attach dressers to the wall, but do we?
Brooke had air in her brain, but the initial prognosis was that the brain looked good. We were given a window of 72 hours. The air in her brain was due to 3 different skull fractures. With the skull fractures they were concerned about fluid leakage which could cause an infection of cerebral fluid….causing meningitis. She had shattered the orbital bones above her eyes and had broken a bone very close to the auditory nerve in her ear. Despite all of this, she seemed to be doing well according to the doctors. She looked so tiny lying on that table–how I just wanted to change places with her.
The window of 72 hours was simply to see if she would make it. To see if Brooke would live or die. Once all of the doctors had checked off on each major body part they began to leave. They had determined she did not need to have immediate surgery–there was air in her brain but not blood. They said her body could re-absorb the air, but again, no guarantee. So my husband and I sat there for 72 hours in her hospital room–every noise, every beep, every doctor opening the door, stirring a huge fear inside of us. A fear that was eating away at my heart. We could lose our sweet precious angel. She was not really responding to us, so of course in the back of our minds despite the fact she was alive and doing well we were scared of brain damage. They did have her sedated to try to let the swelling go down and keep her calm and we were warned that this could keep her from acting like herself.
On day two, we met with a neurosurgeon and a plastic surgeon. We found out if all went well with her brain, we would still have to have surgery to repair the tear in her dura (the membrane around her brain) and reconstruct the bones above her eyes. The only way to perform this surgery would be a craniotomy–an ear to ear incision to enter through the top of the skull. The neurosurgeon would protect her brain and repair the torn membrane and the plastic surgeon would repair her orbital bones. Without the surgery she could lose her eye sight or suffer from double vision and/or be facially deformed or even die from infection. We had no choice. They would actually remove a portion of her skull to get to her brain. They would re-attach the skull with dissolvable plates. I remember the level of confidence the doctors projected to be comforting, but I was terrified. I heard brain and skull, and I lost it.
My husband and I talked in between doctors, standing over the bed our little girl was laying in. Her eyes had started to turn purple and pink around them. She was so swollen around her eyes. We both talked about what we would do if we lost her. Even though we also had a son to care for, we both said we would just die. That is the frame of mind we had reached—no sleep and exhaustion was setting in. We had been listening to each beep, each breath, just waiting. That is when my husband said, “No…I will go to be with her and you would stay with our son.”
I know it sounds bad, but I think he meant it. I looked into his eyes and swallowed hard, knowing that simply could not be an option. On the other side of the equation, how could we live without her? I just kept saying she’s going to be ok. I knew in my heart we had to be strong for not only our son, but also our family. Being faced with the prospect of losing her, we both felt defeated, scared, empty and hopeless. Family was coming and going saying how it would be ok they thought (even though they would tear up and I could see the concern in their faces). I just kept saying to myself, “God don’t take her…take me instead. She’s innocent, this was our fault.”
On the third day of her recovery, there was a breakthrough. Since she was a little baby, my husband had always said to her, “Who is the prettiest girl ever?” She would respond with a huge grin and say, “ME!” When she would open her sleepy eyes, and find him standing above her, that is what he would ask her. Up until now, nothing….not even an answer. On the third day, he asked this question and she said, “ME!” Just like the Brooke we knew…just like our sweet angel. I remember looking at the tears in his eyes. He said to me at that moment, “I think she’s going to make it…I think she is going to be ok. She’s still with us.” This answer came from the little girl that we knew….she was back. Brookie was back!
That was the turning point for Brooke. She did so well that they sent us home on day four to let the swelling go down prior to surgery. Our only instructions were to not let her hit her head. We were so scared! We actually did not want to leave. How could they send us home without performing the surgery she needed? We really struggled with that. What if something happened at home? It was terrifying.
The next days, up until the surgery, would pass slowly, minute by minute. However, once we all got home–and after building a pillow tower around Brooke and each of us on either side with our son at the end of the bed his feet pointing toward me–we all slept. Sleep that each and every one of us needed.
After a good day of sleep, we began to function again. She was timid and she knew something major had happened, but her spirit was not broken. It would be a Friday that we returned to have her surgery. The morning of her surgery I prayed. Brooke and I went into the Chapel at Dell Children’s Hospital and prayed. She rubbed the holy water on the swelling and bruises around her eyes. Going into the surgery we knew that the hope was for things to go as planned but there could always be complications. I don’t think I have ever prayed so hard.
Brooke did really well in surgery. It turned out that she did have a complicated tear to the dura membrane around her brain and the surgery lasted much longer than expected, but they were able to repair everything. She did amazing. They had told me to expect not to be able recognize my child upon waking due to swelling, but Brooke looked just a beautiful as before she started surgery. Before the surgery the nurse asked us if they could shave her head to avoid the possibility of infection. I remember saying to Brooke, “Is it ok if they take your hair?” The nurse had brought a picture of another little girl who had a craniotomy scar with her little bare head. I remember gasping to see what the scar would look like for the first time. But it was actually as if Brooke was at peace before the surgery and she just calmly said to the nurse, “Ok.” I was so proud of her. When it was time for her to go back for surgery, we gave our hugs and kisses. I did not want to let go out of fear. I firmly believed she had been touched by God and had angels around her protecting her. She walked away unafraid, with a smile on her face. I wanted to run and grab her, but she turned around and waved goodbye. She looked so peaceful.
After the surgery her swelling was minimal, truly a miracle. Her bruising became her “pink and purple” eye shadow. She was quite the beauty queen among the most awesome staff at Dell Children’s, the only difference…she did not have her hair. She was such a sport about that. It was like it did not even phase her. I would almost say she was even more beautiful with her “princess crown.” That is what we called her zigzag, ear to ear incision….her princess crown. I told her how special and lucky she was to have a “princess crown” that other little girls did not have. She was such a trooper. Even when I knew she was not feeling her best, she would always smile. God, how lucky am I? I don’t know if luck is the word–how grateful am I? How eternally grateful am I that God let my angel stay on earth. I truly believe Brooke has been touched by God. It was not her time yet. I believe he held her hand and led her back to us. She was meant to be here for other things.
I pray to God each night to widen her halo, to protect her Princess Crown, to keep her safe, for we love her so much. I feel as though our family was given a second chance, one to have our angel stay. The purpose of her accident is still not fully known to me, but I know that it has touched our lives. I feel like if I can tell her story, I can possibly save another child’s life. I tell everyone I can to be sure to strap their dressers to the wall. It could save their child’s life or their grandchild’s life. I do not want any other family to have to go through what our family went through…ever.
When Laurie pointed out Brooke to me in the classroom that day, I would never have imagined that she had just survived something this significant only two years ago. She is the most vibrant, bright, energetic, happy child and her recovery is nothing short of a miracle!
But I think what breaks my heart the most is that while Brooke’s physical scars are healed and she seems to have bounced back, this event is still very raw to her family. They are diligently trying to recover from a huge financial toll and there is a lot of healing that still needs to take place in their hearts…guilt to be released…forgiveness to be granted…of themselves. Upon hearing the details of Brooke’s accident, I knew immediately that this story needed to be passed along. An atonement. A not-so-gentle reminder to check your furniture, the furniture at friends’ homes, grandparents’ homes, aunts, uncles, cousins…any place that a small child may be playing. I will admit to assuming something like this couldn’t happen in our family (don’t we all?), but surprisingly, this is not an uncommon occurrence. In 2009, it was estimated that 15,000 children are injured each year from furniture falling on them (source). Yes, I put the comma in the right place. Fifteen thousand.
Side-by-side, Laurie and Brooke (now 5) make jewelry together, “Brooke’s Angel Wings.” The sale of these necklaces (like the one pictured above and the very first image in this post) is not only helping them move forward toward that financial recovery, but the creative process is a huge part of their emotional recovery. If you are interested in having a necklace designed by Laurie and Brooke, please visit their website at www.brookesangelwings.com.
Meanwhile, when I met up with Brooke and her mommy to take pictures for this article, Brooke selected a necklace that she’d like to give away to one our The Creative Mama readers: To enter to win the necklace, here’s what you need to do: Help share Brooke’s story. Re-post, Tweet, or share a link to this story on Facebook and then provide a link to where you posted in a comment. That’s all. We’ll accept entries until midnight (central time) on Friday, 10/21/11. I will draw the winner at random and then announce on this post.
Added 10.24.11 – We have a winner! Congrats to Arden of Ft. Worth, TX. She shared Brooke’s story on her Facebook page and her number was the lucky one drawn from Random.org. Thank you to EVERYONE who took the time to read and share Brooke’s story and we still encourage everyone to continue passing this along in hopes of preventing more of these kinds of accidents. Thank you again, Laurie, for baring your soul and re-living the most painful day of your life in an effort to prevent this from happening to another child. Thank you, Brooke, for being such an amazing and brave little girl and especially, for helping your mommy mend her own angel wings.
[Added 10:00 p.m. 10/18/11: Laurie has been completely overwhelmed with the response to her story. Her e-mail inbox is flooded with letters of support and encouragement. Seeing the posts all over Twitter and Facebook today just blew us away. Hearing that this story has encouraged so many to check their homes and secure their furniture has been--well, I'm at a loss for words.
The response to Brooke’s story has been truly amazing. To know that some of you are thinking of strapping your child’s dresser to the wall or spreading the word speaks volumes. Brooke is an amazing little girl, and I thank God each day for her. My mission is to not let this be forgotten, and to prevent this from happening to another child. Thank you to each and everyone of you for your comments…my heart is overflowing. Brooke's mommy, Laurie
Thank you ALL again. Wow!]
Michele is a former marketing guru turned child and family photographer in Austin, TX. She is surrounded by three energetic kids at home and a husband who works tirelessly to keep them all educated and fed. Michele is the owner and photographer of Pinkle Toes Photography and she also provides resources and templates for photographers all over the world via Pinkle Toes 4 Photographers.