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Girl rises above medical challenges

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Lara Brooks, 3, plays with balloons at her birthday party Saturday at Red Budd Holy Church.

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BY WILLIAM F. WEST
Staff Writer

Monday, September 16, 2019

Lara Brooks is going to turn 4 on Tuesday, but a birthday party was held in advance in her honor on Saturday at the Red Budd Holy Church southwest of downtown Rocky Mount.

Brooks and her mother, Rose Whitaker, are members of the church. The weekend event, prior to the serving of food and treats, was complete with prayer, a mini-sermon, readings of scripture and singing.

Brooks faces daily challenges, however. Brooks is legally blind, legally deaf and has rare diseases, although she is able to move about by using a walker.

Whitaker, 49, told the Telegram of being overwhelmed by the weekend event. “I’m floored,” Whitaker said. “Yes, I’m very appreciative.”

Brooks’ grandmother Pennie Whitaker also was in attendance. “I feel good about it,” Pennie Whitaker told the Telegram of the gathering.

“And she’s doing a lot more things,” the grandmother said of the granddaughter. “She does everything just like a normal baby.”

Wanda Barnes, who is the church secretary, told the Telegram she has gotten to know Brooks quite well and described Brooks as a sweet child.

“When she first came, she wasn’t walking,” Barnes said. “She wasn’t able to hear. She wasn’t able to see. But over the last year, the Lord has really worked miracles in her life.

“She sees. She hears. She walks. If she catches your pant leg or your skirt tail, she’s coming with you,” Barnes said.

“She has flailing hands, so at any random moment, if you’re holding her, she may slap you,” Barnes said with a chuckle.

The gathering featured remarks by Leon J. Wright, who is an elder at the church.

Wright is a retired longtime Air Force staff sergeant who earlier used a side area of the gathering to, with a laptop computer, teach the young attendees the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Wright also gave Brooks his Air Force uniform stripes from back in the 1970s.

“Those were my original stripes, plus she has a set of wings today for flying,” Wright told the Telegram. “Because she can’t see doesn’t mean she can’t fly.”

Meantime, Whitaker has her own organization created to bring awareness to children who are blind, deaf and with special needs.

That organization is called the “I Am Lara Foundation.”

Whitaker, in a phone interview with the Telegram late last week, spoke about the gaps she believes children with special needs can fall through after they pass the age 3 limit to be able to benefit from early intervention programs.

“I can afford day care, but there’s not a local day care around here that’s equipped to handle my daughter or any other of the special needs children,” Whitaker said. “I’m not just looking out for my daughter. I’m looking out for the other children that are lacking.

“We can’t go drop our children off at a ‘normal day care’,” she said.

When asked, she said, “It’s very frustrating, it is. I don’t even want to get in tears right now.”

She spoke of unsuccessful efforts to get help via the Community Alternatives Program for Children.

The program, more commonly known as CAP/C, provides home- and community-based services to children at risk for institutionalization in nursing homes.

CAP/C is available to any child from birth through 20 years of age who meets both the Medicaid eligibility criteria and the CAP/C eligibility criteria.

The criteria include living in a private residence; being able to be cared for safely at home; and requiring the same level of care as a child in a nursing home or a hospital.

The criteria also include having a family willing to participate in the care and the planning of the care for the child.

Whitaker said her daughter has Triple X syndrome, which is a genetic disorder. Girls with Triple X Syndrome can be at risk for a developmental delays and learning disabilities.

Whitaker also said her daughter has MIDAS syndrome, which is a defect of the skin.

And Whitaker said her daughter has agenesis of corpus callosum. That is characterized by a partial or a complete absence of an area of the brain connecting the two cerebral hemispheres.

Whitaker recalled being pregnant and doctors, after performing ultrasounds 20 to 24 weeks in the term, saying her future child was going to be born with abnormalities.

“It floored me,” she said. “It shook me. I held my tears back, but I didn’t let it stop me.”

She told of being a strong woman of faith throughout the remainder of her pregnancy and doing her own medical research.

And she told of how far her daughter has come.

“It’s all God,” she said. “This is a true walking, breathing miracle right here — all God.”

Whitaker is a resident of Sharpsburg.

Whitaker was a longtime bus driver for Wilson County Schools and served for a time in the U.S. Army, having achieved the rank of private first class and having served as a truck driver.

Presently, Whitaker is a stay-at-home mother and her daughter is in her second year of pre-kindergarten in the Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools system.

“She goes from 7:45 to 3:15 like a normal child, yes-sir,” the mother said.

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