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Love Notes

Cooper's Story

Cooper Vierra visited our Lovestead a few weeks ago. He came with his mother Nikki Ross Vierra. We rode around the place in our 4-wheeler, petted horses’ noses, and, of course, both mom and son joined our Lodgepole Society.

Since Cooper comes from a long line of local loggers and farmers, including his great-grandfather Herman Crabb and his grandfather Randy Ross, his induction into the society seemed appropriate.

During this visit, we also spent time in our living room while I asked Nikki questions and Cooper downed about four grasshopper Oreos. After demonstrating for me how he could get down on all fours all by himself, he invited me to join him on the floor.

So, I did.

 “Thank you,” he said.

Within moments of meeting Cooper for the first time, I said to him, “Ya know, Cooper, a few minutes spent with you every day, especially in the winter, and I’d never need to leave town to get over the doldrums.” Cooper’s smile and total enjoyment of life are infectious.

That’s just one reason this 7-year-old from Sagle has an amazing story. Cooper also has two amazing parents and a cool 4-year-old brother named Trapper who watches out for him. He’s overcome some daunting challenges in his young life. I can’t help but believe that Cooper Vierra will continue to amaze all who know him in the future as he happily continues to defy the odds.

Cooper has cerebral palsy.

His mother Nikki is also on a mission to see that her son can achieve his full potential through the Anat Baniel Method of therapy and from her own training as an ABM practitioner . To help with expenses for therapy and training, Nikki is organizing a benefit dinner/auction July 16 at 6:30 pm at the Ponderay Events Center.

For more of Cooper’s story, I’m deferring to Nikki who recounts the saga in her own words:

Nikki Ross Vierra: I was still in college pursuing my nursing degree when I unexpectedly got pregnant. Everything was going great. I was never sick or anything. Life was good!

The standard 19-week check-up and ultrasound showed that we [Nikki and her husband Aaron] were carrying identical twin boys. We were so excited. They sent us to be seen by a specialist in Spokane. The following week during that visit, I was showing signs of early labor. From that day on, I was put on strict bed rest.

Cooper’s water broke at 24 weeks, and we were heart-flighted to Deaconess Hospital. They stopped my labor for two more weeks. On Friday October 26, 2001, my labor could not be stopped.

Two tiny babies were brought into this world via emergency C-section: Cooper, weighing 1 pound, 10 ounces and Tyler weighing only 1 pound., 3 ounces. This started a very scary and traumatic roller coaster ride of events that being in hospital for 99 days will do.

During the first 48 hours of Cooper’s life, he suffered a Class-4 bleed on his brain. (damage to all four ventricles). The doctors asked us to unplug him several times. We said ‘no.’ No matter what, Cooper chose us, and we were taking him home. 

We moved on.

Cooper had to fight for his survival almost daily. He underwent eight surgeries, including bowl, eye surgery and shunt placement for his hydrocephalus.

We got to hold our little babies for the first time on November 20. Though it was a very brief time, it was amazing. They could tolerate being out of the beds for only about five minutes a day.

Six weeks after his birth, an infection took Tyler’s life. The night he passed away, we felt his spirit move into Cooper. We believe he is always with Cooper, helping him and protecting him.

This time was so hard for Aaron and me. Our young marriage was put to the test. We got so much closer and grew together during this time. We lived at the Ronald McDonald house two blocks away from the hospital.

After losing Tyler, Aaron decided not to return to work, feeling he needed to be with Cooper and me. We were at the hospital every day, by Cooper’s side. After a long 99 days in the hospital, we were able to bring our little man home. We were so excited.

Cooper came home from the hospital on February 2, 2002, still on oxygen and with a few medications. At this point he was eating about 3 cc. of breast milk and weighing six pounds!! He was huge!

We were so concerned with for Cooper’s fragile immune system that we only allowed visitors, (except for close family members) to look at Cooper through our dining room window. In retrospect, it seems kind of funny. We are very protective over him.

For sure, I’m his advocate and a lioness of a mother. I held him all of time and was unwilling to let other people hold him. I was making up for lost bonding time, I guess. He had to stay on oxygen for only about a month or so. After that, it was a little less stressful leaving the home.

In April, 2002, Cooper got an infection in his shunt. (A shunt drains spinal fluid most always into the abdominal cavity, but, in his case, the heart.) We had to be heart-flighted to Scared Heart. Cooper’s shunt had to drained externally for over three weeks, before doctors could do a surgical shunt revision procedure.

I had to fight the hospital to stay by Cooper’s side. At that time, they did not allow parents to spend the night in the ICU with their children. Let’s just say we changed the rules. I slept by Cooper’s side in a crib for four weeks while he recovered from the procedure. My first Mother’s Day was spent in the ICU.

After that, Cooper’s health picked up. We were able to go a road-trip type vacations and relax a bit about his health. At this time we started traditional therapies, and the Birth-to-3 program.

Cooper’s health continued to improve, and we became less concerned with infections. We started taking him into the store with us (instead of my staying in the car with him) and being a little more free from our germaphobia. Life was great.

When Cooper was two, we decided that he needed a sibling. I started seeing a specialist in Spokane, regarding the septum in my uterus. (This was the reason Cooper and Tyler were born so early). I needed to have it removed in order to have a full-term pregnancy. I had surgery, and we got the go ahead to start ‘trying.’

It took us a while and a few miscarriages later, but finally we were very excited to be pregnant. Trapper, Cooper’s little brother was born March 17, 2005, mostly full term, just three weeks early.

I had a great pregnancy, with no problems lifting and carrying Coop around. My biggest fear was being on bed rest and unable to take care of Cooper. Thankfully, it all worked out. The closer we got to the due date, the more nervous I got about leaving Cooper, who had never slept away from me, while I was in the hospital.

Thank God for Dr. Joyce Gilbert. She arranged with the OB department at BGH that Cooper could stay there with Aaron and me, after I was out of the recovery room. It all worked out as a great experience for all of us.

Cooper and Trapper are great friends. They play together very well. It is so fun to see them interact. Their imaginations are wonderful. Trapper always sticks up for his brother and watches out for him. They are so much fun.

Their dad is also a wonderful and supportive father. The boys are lucky to have such a terrific role model in Aaron. They look up to him so much. They are so excited at the end of the day to hear the pickup roll into the driveway. I have the perfect partner for this wonderful life of ours.

Also, Dr. Gilbert has played a big part of our lives. She has been Cooper’s doctor since we brought him home. I’ve had to call her at home after hours a few times, and she as always been wonderful.

Just a few months ago, for example, we were in Salt Lake when Cooper woke up in the middle of the night with a severe headache. There was only one person who would understand our situation, so we called Dr. Gilbert at 1 am. She was so great. I apologized profusely. Her only response was that she chose to live in a small town and that she was happy to help.

We feel so blessed to have such a wonderful, talented and personable pediatric physician living in our community. We are amazed with her dedication and the respect she shows to her patients.

We have been very diligent in implementing all of the traditional forms of therapy for Cooper over the past six years. Last year, however, through a friend of a friend, we were very blessed to discover an alternate form of therapy called  the “Anat Baniel Method.”

ABM uses gentle, innovative techniques to help the brain form new neural connections and patterns in a brain-injured child, enabling the child to move beyond his current limitations.

The ABM office is in California, but after some research, I learned that one of their practitioners lives in Salt Lake City. I called her.

We had a 45-minute conversation about Cooper. I hung up the phone in tears. She told me she could see Cooper in two weeks for four days and that he would receive two lessons a day. Aaron and I were so excited.

A few days later, Cooper had a seizure. I have never been so scared. I heard him cough via the monitor, (he was napping). I ran into the room, and he was completely lifeless. I picked him up and ran outside where Aaron was working. We grabbed Trapper and took off for the ER.

On the way I called Joyce and she had the ER ready and was waiting for us. We live in Garfield Bay, so the whole way to town, I kept checking Cooper’s pulse and telling him that we loved him so much.

We didn’t know that Cooper had experienced a seizure until we got to the hospital. He had never had one before. We again had to be heart-flighted to Spokane, to be monitored for the night. He was released the next day. To say the least, I was very nervous about our 12-hour drive to Salt Lake just a week away. Dr. Gilbert gave us some emergency seizure medication to take with us.

So we went to Utah and met our new friend and practitioner, Maralee. Cooper had a great four days of lessons and was doing new things every day. He was able to touch and play with his feet for the first time. It was so exciting.

During our conversations with Maralee, she kept telling me about the practitioner-training program for ABM and that it was still open for applications. She said she loved the way I worked with Cooper and that I would be a great practitioner. She wrote me a letter of recommendation. I nervously applied. Thankfully, I got accepted and started the three-year training program in February.

My training is outstanding. I have met some amazing and inspirational people from all over the world: professionals and parents of children with special needs, all coming together to make a difference.

I have witnessed this method of therapy change the lives of so many, and seeing the daily transformation in my son, I know I was meant to be a part of this. Sometimes different situations or circumstances in life can change your dreams.

My dream of being a nurse has been changed in a way that I can not even explain. I found a future for me and my son that is better than any fairy tale I could have ever imagined.

If you’d like to help Nikki and Cooper, tickets for Cooper’s Night can be purchased at Sandpoint Furniture, Panhandle State Bank, and Odies Store in Garfield Bay. If you wish to donate items for the auction, call Nikki at 208-265-0997. To learn more about Cooper, visit his website. Photo of Cooper used with permission.

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Author info

Marianne Love Marianne Love is a freelance writer and former English teacher who enjoys telling the stories of her community. She has authored several books, the latest of which is "Lessons With Love."

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