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Vital Signs

When "once upon a time" comes true

By Rosemary Lunardini

Real-life stories can sometimes be just like fairy tales. Imagine a terrible murder, a five-yearold orphan, and a beautiful castle where a little girl can have anything she wants. But all that she wants is straight legs.

Such a tale is the real-life story of Wafica Brooks, L.N.A., who works on the neurology unit at DHMC. She was born in Beirut, Lebanon, where she witnessed intruders kill her mother in their home. Her father was unable to care for her, so Brooks lived in an orphanage until she was 11. As she grew, her legs became more and more bowed due to a genetic condition—vitamin D-resistant rickets—that causes a deficiency of calcium.

She went to live in a "castle" in America when a wealthy couple from Marblehead, Mass., sponsored her on a medical visa. Brooks spent much of the next 18 months in a Massachusetts hospital undergoing one surgery after another. Several people wanted to adopt her, and her father gave his permission so that she could have a better life. She joined the family of Ernest and Lorraine Shand of Ascutney, Vt. That's when she met the fairy godfather of this tale—a doctor in Claremont, N.H.

Smile: Dr. Robert Shoemaker had been an orthopaedic surgeon at the Hitchcock Clinic from 1955 to 1962 and later worked in several other Upper Valley hospitals. "This little girl with the beautiful smile wanted straight legs," he remembers.

While Brooks's metabolic problem was treated by another doctor, Shoemaker performed the rest of the surgery she needed over the next two years. "The risks of surgical correction were immense," Shoemaker says, with the loss of her legs "a realistic concern." But Brooks elected to proceed. She recalls that Shoemaker was always the one who

It was a serendipitous ending to a real-life fairy tale when nurse's aide Wafica Brooks, right, and orthopaedic surgeon Robert Shoemaker, left, met up at DHMC.

took off her casts. She was afraid, and he'd take the time to explain things to her. "He was definitely a great doctor," she says.

Over the next 25 years, the two lost contact with each other. Brooks earned her L.N.A. and worked as a nurse's aide until the first of her two sons was born. She became a stay-at-home mom, then after a divorce renewed her license and got a job at DHMC. She loves her work and is proud that she can support herself.

"I've always been on my legs," Brooks says. "I'm not a deskwork person. I'd rather help people and wait on them, so the surgery helped me do that."

Tale: But that's not the "happily ever

after" of this tale. In November 2006, Brooks came to work one day and saw "Robert Shoemaker, M.D." on her daily sheet. When he awoke, she went into his room and said, "Do you remember me?" Shoemaker, still recovering from head surgery, put on his glasses. "I saw the smile, there was no question. I said 'Wafica.' It really was a pang. Our relationship had been so positive for me. Now, the positions were reversed. I was the recipient of her care."

Wafica Brooks thinks that her real-life fairy tale has been for a purpose and that she is in a caring profession because of what she has been through—and because of all the people who cared for her, including Robert Shoemaker, the doctor who made her dream come true.

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