Our Town

Brooke gets her new chair

Brooke Willisson takes her new chair for a spin around the Tamarack Centre. - Mike Turner photo
Brooke Willisson takes her new chair for a spin around the Tamarack Centre.
— image credit: Mike Turner photo

Brooke Willisson has her new chair after months of fundraising and support from the War Amps.

The six-year old Cranbrook girl has Crommelin syndrome, an extremely rare condition that left her without hips, femurs, fibulas and both arms. A few months ago, the Townsman covered the fundraising effort for a customized wheelchair that would not only give Brooke more mobility and independence, but would also ensure that she doesn't wear out her joints prematurely.

Brooke has had the hot pink chair for three weeks now. Rachel, Brooke's mom, said the chair has seen Brooke go from independent to fiercely independent.

“She loves it,” Rachel  said.  “She caught on very quickly. She’s a pro now. It took her no time at all to get it and figure it out.”

The chair costs over $40,000, but Rachel said the War Amps funded the chair, leaving the fundraised money for much needed mobility modifications to the family house and vehicle.

The monies raised covered all the modifications they did for the  van, as well as a ramp and a wheelchair accessible door for the house.

Rachel said it didn’t take long to see the  perspective-changing effects the chair would  have on Brooke.

Recently, the family was in Target in the Tamarack Centre, and Brooke was practicing going around shelves and aisles in the store. Rachel’s older daughter Georgia had just gotten some chapstick, and Brooke asked her for some. So Brooke used the chair to raise herself to about five feet tall — level with her sister.

Georgia went up to Brooke and, face-to-face, helped her with the Chapstick.

“For me that was such a huge moment where I went, ‘Holy smokes, she’s finally equal with her sister.’”

It’s a big change, since at standing height Brooke is just over 60 centimetres tall.

And that’s not where the new discoveries ended.

When they got home, they went around the neighbourhood.

“Neighbours were coming out and celebrating with us,” Rachel said.

“I realized we were walking around the neighbourhood and I wasn’t pushing a stroller,” she said. Brooke was now independent.

Rachel said she can’t even begin to thank people and businesses for the support that’s been shown for Brooke.

“It was unbelievably moving for us,” Rachel said. “I think we cried the most in those two weeks that we ever have. I don’t even know how to start thanking people. I truly have no idea how to thank them on a level that my heart is at.”

She said even with the fundraising over, people are still coming and asking if there is anything they can do to help.

“It’s incredible to watch people come together,” she said. “She’s six, and she’s in a two-foot package, and she’s cherished like this — it’s mind-blowing.”

Rachel said they are also hoping to start a post-secondary scholarship for people with disabilities who are graduating.

“Just because you have a disability, does not mean whatsoever that you can’t become an amazing part of your community,” she said.

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