That smile is the first thing his mother brags about, and it's the first thing a visitor notices when he meets Harper Orman. That smile immediately takes hold of a room, makes Harper the center of attention, and brightens his mother's day.
“He smiles more than any child I've ever been around,” says Harper's mom, West Point native Brooke Bowen. “It doesn't matter what's going on in my life, when I see that little man's smile, it just melts my heart.”
That engaging smile has always been a constant for Harper, even in the face of a lifetime of medical hardships. You see, Harper Orman is just like most 5-year-olds in so many ways. There's his cheerful disposition, his love of cartoons, his love of sports. Some of his favorite activities are fishing with his father and brothers, or listening to his grandfather, Bud Bowen, announce the play-by-play for West Point High School football games every Friday night in the Fall. But Harper has a struggle that most don't face in day-to-day life. For most of his life, the 5-year-old has battled Cerebral Palsy, a fight that continues today. It's a fight that changed his family's lives forever, and in particular, it changed the life of Brooke, who has served as Harper's rock from the beginning.
“He was two weeks old when the complications started. He was diagnosed with Spinal Meningitis, which led to bilateral temporal lobe brain damage and ultimately, he was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy,” said Brooke. “The day we took him to LeBonheur Children's Hospital the first time, I honestly don't even remember the drive up there. All I can say is that God had his hands on us as he got us to the hospital, and he's still watching over us today.”
Since the early complications and the resulting diagnosis, Harper has fought valiantly against a number of medical issues, needing repeated visits to LeBonheur and Blair E. Batson Children's Hospital in Jackson. Through it all, he's maintained a champion's spirit, and he has kept smiling that smile.
“Harper is the happiest child I've ever seen,” said Brooke. “Nothing really gets him down for an extended period of time.”
So, how then, in the face of such a battle, is Harper able to stay so positive, to remain such an inspiration? You don't have to look far to find out.
Stepping into Harper's world for even a minute reveals a strong support system, consisting of family and friends. His father, Manuel Orman of West Point, is “An amazing dad who loves Harper and is always there for him,” according to Brooke.
Brooke also notes that Harper gets endless love and support from her parents, Betty and Bud Bowen, and Orman's parents, Dot and Harper's late grandfather, Donnie, who “Harper loved with all his heart.”
The list of friends and family who provide help and support to Harper are endless, but right there at the center of it is Brooke, a mother who never once wavered in her unflinching love for Harper, and she has never once regretted a second of the past five years.
“I wouldn't change Harper for a million bucks,” said Brooke. “That's my son. I love him the way he is. I know that he can't run and jump like other children, but in my heart, I know that one day, I will see him running and jumping, and I'll be right there in heaven running with him.”
This Mother's Day, Brooke's fifth, mothers everywhere will be lauded and feted by their children or their families. But for Brooke, every day with Harper is just as special as the last. And for those in her family, the chance to see Brooke grow and become a strong maternal figure has been awe-inspiring.
“Little Harper is my hero, he's my inspiration,” said Bud Bowen, who starts and finishes each radio broadcast by acknowledging Harper and his family. “To watch him go through what he goes through, it really puts things in perspective. And watching him smile, it's one of the best feelings in the world. As a grandfather, I love him completely, and as a daddy, it just makes me proud to see that mother that my daughter has become. She never complains, she gives Harper all the privileges and chances that healthy kids have, and the two of them share an incredible bond.”
That bond is a common one shared on Mother's Day, and for Brooke, it's a bond that will never be broken. It's also a bond that has given her strength that she never knew she could have.
“March 23, 2006 (Harper's birthday) is the greatest day of my life. Through all this, I've never felt like i was going through a struggle,” said Brooke. “It has just happened, and God has given me everything I need. I was meant to be Harper's mother, and he was meant to be my son. I cherish every minute of it.”