Given just two hours to live, Brooke Day got her first beautiful dress when she was in a neonatal intensive care unit.

The dress was yellow and had daisies.

Brooke defied the odds and got another lovely dress to wear home from the hospital. That dress was purple and had lace.

Throughout the years, Brooke would acquire many pretty dresses, including an orange one she wore when earning the title of Nebraska Miss Amazing Junior Queen for 2014.

When Brooke and her mom, JoEllen, moved recently, they came across the dresses.

There were 34.

Day could have sold her daughter’s dresses — which she wore for pageants, proms and many other special occasions.

But she and Brooke had saved the dresses, figuring they’d do something special with them.

And they have.

Brooke and her mom said they donated 30 of the dresses to “Night to Shine” set for Friday at Fremont Nazarene Church. The annual event, sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation, is a prom for people with special needs.

“They’re special,” Day said of the dresses. “Brooke wore them and she wanted someone else to have them.”

In their Fremont home, Brooke and her mom reminisced on Monday about the history of these dresses.

Brooke was born on March 9, 1998, in Omaha, where she wasn’t expected to live long, but Day agreed to let doctors try a treatment — not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The baby would spend the first year of her life in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Nebraska Medicine.

“She came home on 47 different machines, a ventilator breathing for her and lots of medicines,” Day said. “She was on the ventilator until she turned 7. She has flat-lined 65 times — 24 of them were in my care where the Fremont Fire Department came and took us to the hospital. The rest were in the hospital.

“It’s incredible that she’s here.”

Local residents had a fundraiser for Brooke, who continued to progress.

Brooke was 7 years old when a trach tube was removed and she started breathing on her own.

At 9 ½ years old, she started walking and was about 10 years old when she began talking.

Brooke was 14 years old when she began eating. Before that, she’d been fed through a gastrostomy tube.

Day said her daughter was 13 when they attended a pageant for little girls. Day thought it was too bad a similar event wasn’t available for girls with disabilities.

Then Day’s son, Dylan Kaup, suggested she go online and see if there was such an event.

That’s when Day found the Nebraska Miss Amazing pageant. The annual event is designed to provide opportunities for girls and women with disabilities to build confidence and self-esteem in a supportive environment.

“They get to spend the day just being themselves. The whole day is about them,” she said.

Each contestant gets a volunteer buddy. They participate in arts and crafts. A meal is provided for contestants and their parents.

For the event, Brooke would need two outfits — a fancy dress and an interview dress. She got a long, orange-colored formal dress. For the interview, she wore a light pink, street-length dress.

And the dress accumulation process began.

Brooke competed in 2013 and won the Nebraska Miss Amazing Junior Queen for 2014.

“I was super excited,” Brooke said.

Brooke received a trophy, tiara and a hot pink sash. She then went to parades, outings, churches and nursing homes.

Dresses would be needed for Brooke’s appearances and when she went to prom at Fremont High School and a couple of weddings. Day would buy the dresses, including some from her son’s friends.

Brooke also went to the national Miss Amazing contest in Omaha. During the national competition, she earned the runner-up title.

She has continued to compete in the statewide event each year, except for last year when she didn’t feel well.

So from the time Brooke was 13 until she was 20, she’d end up with 34 dresses, not all of which fit her anymore.

“We had planned one day to do something very special with them,” Day said. “Then we heard about the ‘Tim Tebow Night to Shine Prom.’”

The two decided they wanted to donate dresses to an event where girls with special needs — who might not have an outfit — could “feel like a princess for the day.”

Day said Brooke knows many of the girls who will attend Night to Shine, because she participates with them in Special Olympics basketball and track.

“She wanted them to have the dresses,” Day said.

Recently, there was a day when those participating in Night to Shine could come select attire — dresses, tuxedos, shoes, ties and jewelry.

“She got to watch a lot of girls pick her dresses to wear so it was really awesome,” her mom said.

Brooke was able to select a new dress for herself, too, along with jewelry.

Day said her daughter misses the dresses a little, but is happy that others got them. Brooke, who graduated from high school in 2017, plans to attend the Night to Shine event this weekend.

She also plans to continue participating in the Nebraska Miss Amazing Pageant. The next pageant will be in November.

Brooke and her mom will keep collecting dresses, too. Day said they plan to team up with the church to donate dresses for future Night to Shine events.

Anyone who’d like to donate a dress should contact Day via Facebook.

In the meantime, Day hopes to create more awareness of events for people with disabilities.

“We need more of these things for disabled people,” Day said. “It’s important that they get a special day as well, where no one is going to make fun of them or put them down or tease them.”

On Monday afternoon, Brooke was thinking ahead to Night to Shine as she provided a big, pageant-size smile for a photograph.

The former NICU baby has had some practice when it comes to proms, pageants, photos — and persistence.

“Brooke shouldn’t be here,” Day said. “She’s a miracle.”


News Editor

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She covers news, features, religion stories and writes the weekly faith-based, Spiritual Spinach column.

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