BY MELANIE BUCK –
At times it is hard to see the blessings of God when faced with any form of tragedy or illness. However, in the case of twelve-year-old Vivie Anne Hooper, it’s hard not to.
Vivie, a sixth-grader at Mena Middle School, was born with Retinal Blastoma. According to kidshealth.org, Retinal Blastoma is a rare childhood cancer of the retina, the area of the eye responsible for sensing light and sending nerve signals to the brain. When Vivie was just one day old, her parents, Jeremy Hooper and Mika Hooper, were given the devastating news that she would be blind. Full of shock and sadness, the couple brought their brand-new baby girl home for the weekend before making the trip to St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. While home, the Hoopers went to church on Sunday morning where Vivie was prayed over.
Testing began upon arrival at St. Jude’s and lasted for the next week. Vivie’s parents had received the difficult news from Arkansas Children’s Hospital upon her birth that there were tumors on both of her eyes. St. Jude’s doctors were stunned at the results they were seeing now compared with Vivie’s scans done just days earlier. There were no tumors on Vivie’s eyes, only scar tissue where tumors once were, and at one week old, Vivie, by the doctor’s definition, was ‘a true miracle.’ “The doctors said, ‘we can’t explain it, we don’t know why, but there are no tumors.’ I believe it was God’s healing,” stated Mika.
Although the cancer was gone, Vivie still had no sight. At three weeks old, she had surgery that only made matters worse. Not wanting to bounce from one doctor to the next, the Hoopers brought Vivie home, placed her in God’s hands, and continued to pray. “I believe that she’s a miracle. I believe that the Lord healed her of cancer,” stated Mika. “However, I struggled for a long time with, ‘why didn’t he fix her eyes?’” Jeremy stated, “You vision healing as a certain way and you expect it and I kept praying that she would be healed and one day, God told me she was healed.”
The only answer can be that she has more of God’s work to do. Vivie is a blessing and a testimony to all who cross her path. With her never-ending smile and upbeat attitude, there is no self-pity in her thoughts, only what she is blessed with. “Her attitude is the best, she is very happy. Nothing slows her down. She doesn’t know she’s missing much. She has taught me a lot and has definitely changed my life,” stated Jeremy.
Allowing Vivie to continue to grow with her own eyes, prosthetics were deemed necessary this past spring. “She started getting headaches… bad headaches. It was because her eyes were dormant. They were getting calcium build-ups and glaucoma,” stated Mika. The calcium deposits began to dry up and crack on her eyes causing the headaches. In May, the decision was made to remove her eyes. On May 8, Vivie underwent surgery and her own eyes were replaced with ‘globes’ until the prosthetics could be made. “The doctor took pictures of my eyes and designed her’s to match mine,” said a beaming Mika. The prosthetics are attached to the muscles surrounding the eye, and although she still is unable to see, Vivie is now able to open her eyes and move them just like a normal eye. Mika stated, “Her eyes were too small to keep her eyelids open. But now, the prosthetics are the right size and she is having to learn to open her eyes. The ocularist works with her to teach her how to hold her head up and keep her eyes open.”
None of Vivie’s experience has held her back. Vivie is more brilliant than most. She loves school and loves to read. “I love reading class and I love band,” said a very proud Vivie. She reads Braille at a rate of 140 words per minute, more than twice as fast as most Braille readers. Vivie has never been separated from mainstream students, always striving to be just like everyone else. “Just because she couldn’t see, to me, was not a reason for her to have any type of second rate education because she’s brilliant. So it was important for me to say, she can do what the other kids are doing, whatever they’re doing. She may have to do it a different way, but she can do it,” stated Mika of the determination to keep Vivie in the mainstream. She added, “It’s been challenging but we’re seeing the rewards.” Jeremy added, “Her fourth grade year, there were only four students in her class with straight A’s and she was one of them.” She loves to swim, ride horses, jump on the trampoline, and riding crazy rides at the fair.
Vivie also plays the piano, by ear, and will learn to play the baritone as part of the Bearcat Marching Band. Never considering any boundaries to what she is capable of, Mika said, “She’s doing really well by ear. She’s really excited about playing the baritone. Hopefully, she’ll be marching by next year.”
Upon arrival for the interview, Vivie was in P.E. class learning how to catch a volleyball. “I can catch a volleyball mid-bounce,” said an excited Vivie. She has high hopes to someday be on the radio, “I talk a lot,” she said. “She’s really interested in radio, maybe being a DJ. She’s recently been talking about learning Ham radio,” said Jeremy.
Using a Braille “Note”, a computer made for people with visual impairments, has allowed Vivie a classroom freedom that would not have otherwise been possible. It has a Braille keyboard and speech synthesizer that allows Vivie to surf the net, read books, and receive and turn-in her homework. “Any book that she wants, we can download it. She can download music or check the weather. She can type her homework using Braille and save it on a jump drive and then the teacher can put it in their computer and print it out in text or vise versa. The teacher can send Vivie her work,” stated Mika. It also has a screen that can be plugged in so that Mika can see to follow along with her homework. Having the device since second grade, Vivie can do anything she wants with it.
She has a paraprofessional, Miss Faught, whose goal is to teach Vivie to be as independent as possible. She also has a Braille teacher, Mr. Wright, who adds orientation and mobility and has been with her since she was three. Being new to middle school, he is teaching Vivie how to find her way through the halls with her cane. The school is adding signs with Braille on them to help with the process.
Her parents could not be happier or more appreciative with the way Mena Public Schools and its students have accepted Vivie. “The school and the teachers have always been top-notch,” said Jeremy. “You can only ask for so much, and the rest, Vivie has to prove, and she has,” he added.
Although Vivie will never regain her sight, it is very apparent that she has great things in store for her. Mika stated, “Today, I would not change a thing about my child. I have learned more from being her mother in how to not judge things by what they look like. She loves people; it doesn’t matter what they look like. She loves fiercely and has touched so many lives and I know now, without a shadow of a doubt, that God has done so many things in her life. This last time was very trying. But God still gets the glory.” Jeremy stated, “It may not make sense to people, but I wouldn’t have her any other way. You just have to meet her to learn that.” Jeremy summed it up with a verse that was shared with him quite some time ago: Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” John 9:3