Kooper Brooks at Spaulding Rehabilitation in Boston, where he will undergo intense therapy after becoming paralyzed from the waist down. Photo courtesy of Suzanne Dennis

Kooper Brooks went to the hospital on a Thursday in May with strange sensations and pain in his legs. Doctors said it was growing pains and sent him home.

Four days later, the 13-year-old from Berwick woke up with excruciating pain. He couldn’t stand.

This time, his mother rushed him to a different hospital, where doctors immediately knew something was very wrong.

He was flown to Boston Children’s Hospital, where an MRI showed a lesion in his spinal cord. During surgery, doctors removed a mass that was leaking blood.

Kooper, a Noble eighth grader on the football team, is now paralyzed from the waist down. Doctors don’t know if he will ever regain function in his legs – or walk again.

And his family doesn’t know what the future will bring.


“Kooper has always been a determined kid who had a knack for figuring out how stuff works. Once he made up his mind on something he was going to figure it out one way or another. His way,” his mother, Suzanne Dennis, said in an email from Boston Children’s Hospital. “I know he will still do great things despite this unfortunate circumstance.”

Kooper Brooks hugs his 4-year-old brother Sullivan during a visit at Boston Children’s Hospital. Photo courtesy of Suzanne Dennis

She didn’t feel up for an interview last week, saying she’s been overwhelmed by Kooper’s hospitalization.

In the weeks since he was flown to Boston, the Berwick community has rallied behind the family in a show of support that has been a bit shocking for both Kooper and his mom. A GoFundMe campaign to cover medical expenses and adaptations to their home raised over $20,000 as of Sunday. A second GoFundMe campaign set up by the family of Kooper’s father, who lives in New Hampshire, has raised nearly $12,000 for medical care and travel expenses.

“He’s a super active, always moving type of kid. This is a really big change for him,” said Sarah Rockwood, a friend and neighbor.


After the successful surgery in Boston, testing showed the mass was not cancerous and Kooper was diagnosed with a cavernous malformation, a cluster of abnormally formed blood vessels that look similar to a blackberry.


It can occur anywhere in the body, but most commonly produces symptoms when they are found in the brain and spinal cord, according to the Mayo Clinic.

They occur in about 1 in 500 people, but it’s rare for a symptomatic cavernous malformation to be found in the spinal cord.

The blood vessel walls are weak and thin, allowing blood to leak into the surrounding brain or spinal cord tissue. Nearly half of people affected never experience symptoms (numbness, itching, burning or tingling, paralysis or weakness, and pain) or even know they have it.

Dennis has been documenting their experiences since the surgery on the “Kooper Strong” Facebook page.

“I think the reality of his situation is sinking in. He said he keeps thinking he’s going to wake up and his legs will be working, but they aren’t YET,” Dennis wrote on May 31. “Yet is the key word. Kooper is a fighter and we are all here for him.”

She also writes of his small gains, what she calls “huge successes,” like learning to sit up. There are times he is “scared as heck,” but he is dealing with it all surprisingly well and keeps her and his nurses laughing, she said.


On June 1, Dennis shared Kooper’s quote of the day: “Don’t take little things for granted, because once you lose them, you don’t have much to cherish.”

Kooper Brooks, center, with his siblings Kinsey, Korbin, Elise, Sawyer and Sullivan. Photo courtesy of Suzanne Dennis

Kooper has maintained his sense of humor. He jokes that his mom should be thankful she’ll have front-row parking spots now and has challenged a family friend who is a bilateral amputee to wheelchair races.

His days in the hospital have been brightened by visitors and packages sent by friends.

“I don’t think he realizes how many lives he has touched (or tormented lol) and how the community is all reaching out,” Dennis wrote in a recent update. “But, as a mom… those annoying things he used to do to make me mad… I’d do anything for him to be able to do that again. Like falling in porta potties at school, or digging holes in the yard looking for treasure and leaving it there. He was always up to something, and it hurts my heart to see him going through this.”


After a couple of weeks at Boston Children’s, Kooper was moved to Spaulding Rehabilitation, which has one of the top pediatric rehabilitation programs in the country. From his window, he had a bird’s-eye view of the Boston waterfront.


On his first day there, he went to physical therapy and twice to occupational therapy. He explored the building, played cards in the café and went out to the third-floor garden, despite the cold and rain.

Kooper Brooks helps himself to a snack while exploring Spaulding Rehabilitation in Boston. Photo courtesy of Suzanne Dennis

“His favorite part of the day was ‘hearing all the support, and getting to do the therapy and actually moving around,'” his mother wrote on Facebook. “He even successfully stole a cheese stick from the top drawer of the unit fridge! He was like ‘I can do anything’!”

But his stay there was short.

The next day, he headed back to Boston Children’s to treat an infection in his surgical incision. He had to undergo another surgery to clean out the incision, and Kooper is again recovering, according to his mother.

Back in Berwick, Rockwood is organizing fundraisers, selling T-shirts and promoting a meal train for the family. The main focus is to help Dennis modify her house, a tall narrow New Englander, so that Kooper will be able to navigate it in a wheelchair when he comes home. Those modifications will include a first-floor bedroom and an accessible bathroom.

On Friday, Kooper returned to Spaulding, where he is expected to go through six weeks of intense therapy.

“He’s a strong young man who sprinkles his humor and sauciness wherever he goes,” Dennis said. “He’s got this and he has everyone’s love behind him.”

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